Students sue IU over COVID vaccine requirement

Eight students, including an incoming law student, have filed a lawsuit against Indiana University, claiming the school’s policy requiring students to be inoculated against COVID-19 is “irrational and unreasonable” because “the pandemic is virtually over, herd immunity has been achieved and there is extremely minimal risk of COVID to IU students.”

The plaintiffs, represented by The Bopp Law Firm in Terre Haute, assert they have religious and medical objections to taking the vaccine. In addition, they also object to the university’s requirements that unvaccinated students wear masks and be regularly tested for COVID-19.

Along with the 55-page complaint, Ryan Klaassen, et al. v. The Trustees of Indiana University, 1:12-cv-238, filed in the Northern Indiana District Court Monday, the plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction accompanied by a 40-page memorandum.

“The public certainly has had an important interest in controlling the COVID pandemic,” the plaintiffs stated in their memorandum. “But under the current situation, if IU’s Mandate is not enjoined, the student’s now superior interest in liberty will be lost. IU runs a very real risk of having a speculatively marginally healthier population of students, but ones who have virtually no control over their own lives and what they must inject into their bodies.”

In a statement released after the lawsuit was filed, Indiana University maintained the necessity of having the students, faculty and staff vaccinated.

“The requirement for all Indiana University students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated before the return to school in August remains in place,” the statement said. “As part of IU’s response to the ongoing pandemic, the vaccine mandate is helping to support a return to safe and more normal operations this fall.”

In May, IU announced that all students, faculty and staff had to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before being allowed to return to the campuses. Proof of vaccine status was required and exemptions from the mandate were available. However, students who did not comply would have their registration cancelled and faculty and staff would have their employment terminated.

Following a backlash from state legislators and a caution from Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, IU revised its vaccination policy. No longer are students and employees required to provide proof of their immunization status.

However, the plaintiffs contend IU is still mandating vaccines in violation of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty and of Indiana state law prohibiting vaccine passports.

“While public health can be considered a compelling state interest under certain circumstance, those circumstances don’t exist now to college students, and IU’s Mandate is not narrowly tailored using the least restrictive means available,” the plaintiffs argue in the preliminary injunction memorandum. “…IU’s Mandate is unreasonable because the latest scientific data shows it is unnecessary to protect the health of college-age students and others when vaccines are widely available for those who chose to take them.”

In its statement, IU said it is in compliance with the law.

“The university is confident it will prevail in this case. Following release of the Indiana attorney general’s opinion, our process was revised, with uploading proof of vaccination no longer required. The attorney general’s opinion affirmed our right to require the vaccine.”

Among the plaintiffs is Ashlee Morris, a resident of Jennings County and an incoming student at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. The other plaintiffs include undergraduates, a Ph.D. candidate in musicology and an MBA.

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