Judge upholds COVID-19 vaccine mandate in victory for Indiana University

  (Reuters) – Indiana University students must comply with the school's COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the fall semester after a federal judge refused on Monday to block the school's inoculation requirement, one of the first rulings of its kind during the pandemic. 

  U.S. District Court Judge Damon Leichty in South Bend, Indiana, rejected the argument by eight students that the school violated their bodily autonomy and constitutional right to due process. 

  "This university policy isn’t forced vaccination," wrote the judge. "The students have options — taking the vaccine, applying for a religious exemption, applying for a medical exemption, applying for a medical deferral, taking a semester off, or attending another university." 

  The students sued last month and asked Leichty to block the school's requirement that students, faculty and staff be vaccinated or receive an exemption. Exempted students must follow separate COVID-19 mitigation strategies. 

  “Today’s ruling does not end the students’ fight — we plan to immediately appeal the judge's decision,” states James Bopp, a conservative activist attorney who represented the students. 

  COVID-19 vaccines have become a U.S. political flashpoint and the country has fallen short of President Joe Biden's vaccine goals, raising concerns that life may not return to normal as the number of infections are beginning to rise. 

  Leichty, appointed by former President Donald Trump, said had the students shown a likelihood that the university was infringing unreasonably on constitutional rights, blocking the policy would have been in the public interest. But he said the students "have a low likelihood of success" of proving that. 

  More than 500 colleges and universities have mandated the COVID-19 vaccine and Leichty's ruling appears to be the first in a case challenging such a policy. 

  A federal judge in Texas in June dismissed a case brought by 117 workers at Houston Methodist Hospital who challenged the facility's employee vaccine requirement. 

  (Reporting by Tom Hals in Wilmington, Delaware; Editing by Aurora Ellis) 

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