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Students sue Indiana University in federal court over vaccine mandate


By Rebekah Riess and Steve Almasy, CNN

A potential showdown is looming between eight students who want to come to the Indiana University campus in August but think the school’s Covid-19 vaccine mandate is unconstitutional.

The mandate requires students, faculty and staff to be vaccinated or get an exemption for religious or medical reasons before starting the fall term.

The eight students filed a lawsuit Monday in US District Court in Indiana asking a judge to prevent the school from enforcing it, saying it is in violation of the 14th Amendment and state law.

The 116-page filing comes after Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita, a Republican, issued an opinion last month saying the school’s initial vaccine policy “clearly runs afoul of (a new) state law.”

“Indiana law and numerous cases have held public universities to be ‘arms of the state,’ and therefore required to abide by the mandates set out in this new law,” Rokita said. But Rokita noted that while state law prohibits public universities from requiring proof of the Covid-19 vaccine, it does not prohibit them from requiring the vaccination itself.

After Rokita’s announcement the school changed the policy from requiring students to upload documentation of their vaccine status to having to fill out an online form.

University officials said the new policy will not change.

“The requirement for all Indiana University students, faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated before the return to school in August remains in place,” Indiana University spokesperson Chuck Carney said Tuesday. “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. The university is confident it will prevail in this case.”

Carney said the attorney general’s opinion affirmed the university’s right to require vaccinations.

The lawsuit says that requiring students to use the form to certify they have been vaccinated and report the dates is a violation of the law because it means they have to provide proof they have been vaccinated.

The eight student plaintiffs are two incoming freshmen, two incoming sophomores, a senior, an incoming first-year law student, a student pursuing a master’s degree in business administration, and a doctoral candidate.

Six of the students have received exemptions based on religious beliefs. The other two don’t qualify for exemptions, the lawsuit says. Several of the plaintiffs also object to mask requirements and other measures for unvaccinated students.

“IU’s Mandate violates the constitutional rights of IU’s students,” James Bopp Jr., a lead attorney for the plaintiffs, said in an online news release. “It requires all IU students without any meaningful exemptions to take the COVID vaccine.

“In fact, no other government entity, not the FDA, not the CDC, not the State of Indiana, not any county government, and not any other Indiana public university, requires a COVID vaccination.”

The plaintiffs are suing the school’s board of trustees.

Recently a federal judge in Texas dismissed a lawsuit against Houston Methodist Hospital by employees who opposed a Covid-19 vaccine mandate as a condition of employment.

US District Court Judge Lynn Hughes ruled against Jennifer Bridges and 116 of her hospital coworkers.

“Methodist is trying to do their business of saving lives without giving them … COVID-19,” Hughes wrote in the dismissal of the lawsuit.

“It is a choice made to keep staff, patients, and their families safer. Bridges can freely choose to accept or refuse a COVID-19 vaccine; however if she refuses she will simply need to work somewhere else.”

Hospital spokesperson Gale Smith told CNN on Tuesday that 153 employees either resigned in the two-week suspension period that began June 8 or were terminated Tuesday.

Employees who became compliant with the policy during the suspension period returned to work the day after they became compliant, Smith said in an email.

CNN’s Keith Allen contributed to this report.

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