Federal Appeals Court Backs Indiana U on Vaccines

Judges reject request for injunction against a requirement for students.

August 4, 2021

A federal appeals court has rejected an appeal of a district court's ruling denying an injunction against an Indiana University rule requiring all students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit used language in rejecting the appeal that strongly backed Indiana University.

Writing for the panel, Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote, "People who do not want to be vaccinated may go elsewhere. Many universities require vaccination against SARS-CoV-2, but many others do not. Plaintiffs have ample educational opportunities."

He added, "Each university may decide what is necessary to keep other students safe in a congregate setting. Health exams and vaccinations against other diseases … are common requirements of higher education. Vaccination protects not only the vaccinated persons but also those who come into contact with them, and at a university close contact is inevitable."

James Bopp Jr., the lawyer for the eight students seeking the injunction, told The Indianapolis Star that he would file an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The judges noted that Indiana has exemptions for religious or medical reasons. Further, they noted that "six of the eight plaintiffs have claimed the religious exception, and a seventh is eligible for it."

In addition, the judges noted that a university may do things to students because they are students, such as charging them tuition. "Undergraduates must part with at least $11,000 a year (in-state tuition) even though Indiana could not summarily confiscate that sum from all residents of college age."

The appeals court also said the First Amendment does not protect the students from the requirement. "The First Amendment means that a state cannot tell anyone what to read or write, but a state university may demand that students read things they prefer not to read and write things they prefer not to write. A student must read what a professor assigns, even if they student deems the books heretical, and must write exams or essays as required. A student who is told to analyze the role of nihilism in Dostoevsky's The Possessed but who submits an essay about Iago's motivations in Othello will flunk."

"If conditions of higher education may include surrendering property and following instructions about what to read and write, it is hard to see a greater problem with medical conditions that help all students remain safe when learning," the court ruled. "A university will have trouble operating when each student fears that everyone else may be spreading disease. Few people want to return to remote higher education -- and we do not think the Constitution forces the distance-learning approach on a university that believes vaccination (or masks and frequent testing of the unvaccinated) will make in-person operations safe enough."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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