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Indiana and South Carolina Colleges' Mask Mandates Upheld in Court

In two separate rulings, campus mask mandates were legally upheld

The Supreme Courts of Indiana and South Carolina ruled this week that college could require masks on campus.

The decision cited different aspects of each states’ laws but reached similar conclusions. They are two of many nationwide cases testing the legality of university mask mandates.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday in favor of Indiana University’s (IU) mask mandate by denying an injunction to stop the policy.

Eight IU students filed the injunction, arguing the mandate violated their constitutional rights as protected by the 14th Amendment. They asserted their right to due process was violated because they would be forced to receive unwanted medical treatment.

Previously, an Indiana district court judge said the school was acting reasonably “in pursuing public health and safety for its campus communities” and upheld the campus mandate earlier in August.

“The appeals court decision heavily cited Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a Supreme Court decision in 1905, which found that a Massachusetts state law allowing cities to require residents to be vaccinated for smallpox did not violate one’s protections under the 14th Amendment. It essentially decided personal liberty may be circumvented for the good of the public under state police power,” reports Fox News.

Because the IU requirement allows for medical and religious exemptions, the Seventh Circuit Court said the policy provided for constitutional accommodations. The court said the state cannot require vaccinations, but the university is permitted to do so just as it sets academic requirements.

On Tuesday, the State Supreme Court of South Carolina ruled that the University of South Carolina can require its students to wear masks on campus.

The decision focused on one of the temporary laws, or provisos, passed with the state budget.

While Proviso 1.108 prohibits school districts and schools from imposing mask mandates for their students, the Supreme Court looked at a second law, Proviso 117.190.

Under this law, “a public institution of higher learning, including a technical college, may not use any funds appropriated or authorized pursuant to this act to require that its students have received the COVID-19 vaccination in order to be present at the institution’s facilities without being required to wear a facemask. This prohibition extends to the announcement or enforcement of any such policy.”

“Nothing in the proviso manifests the General Assembly’s intent to prohibit all mask mandates at public institutions of higher learning,” the court wrote in its ruling. “Instead, the proviso clearly prevents state-supported institutions of higher education from using funds from the 2021-2022 appropriations to fund efforts requiring only unvaccinated individuals to wear face masks.”

Attorney General Alan Wilson wrote in a responding statement, “While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we certainly understand its rationale and anticipated this was a reading the Court could give … While the proviso was not clear, we think the legislature’s intent was, so now it’s up to the University of South Carolina to address this matter in light of the General Assembly’s position.”

Following the decision, Clemson University announced a mask mandate for students on its campus.

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