A federal judge today tossed a request from students at the University of Massachusetts campuses in Lowell and Boston to force the schools to let them attend classes without getting Covid-19 shots.
US District Court Judge Denise Casper said administrators at the two schools had shown a legally required "compelling interest" in requiring students to get shots as a condition of coming on campus next month. The single doctor the two students found who agreed with them the shots posed a risk did not negate evidence from federal and state health authorities that vaccinations are one of the country's best tools for bringing Covid-19 under control, especially among young people, who now represent its fastest growing group of victims, Casper said.
The schools also didn't deprive the two students of any rights to an education, even if one could argue one has such a right, because the students would not be expelled, only limited to online classes both campuses offer. That might not be the most ideal student experience - especially for the UMass Boston student on the school soccer team - but that hardly rises to the level of stomping on rights, Casper ruled.
She continued this ability to continue online means the school's actions are less severe than those allowed under the country's major vaccine case - a 1905 Supreme Court ruling involving a minister in Cambridge during a smallpox outbreak - which gave officials the right to take strict actions during public-health emergencies, such as requiring vaccinations or fining people who refuse.
Even with the Vaccine Policy, students who choose not to comply with may still take online classes at UMass, or defer their enrollment for a semester, not amounting to irreparable harm. Moreover, the balance of equities tips in Defendants’ favor given the strong public interest here that they are promoting—preventing further spread of COVID-19 on campus, a virus which has infected and taken the lives of thousands of Massachusetts residents. Bayley's Campground Inc. v. Mills, 463 F. Supp. 3d 22, 38 (D. Me. 2020), aff'd, 985 F.3d 153 (1st Cir. 2021) (concluding that public interest in state COVID-19 response is "enormous"). Plaintiffs' requested relief here would weaken the efforts of UMass to carry out those goals. Similarly, given the public health efforts promoted by the Vaccine Policy, enjoining the continuation of same is not in the public interest.
She also rejected the UMass Boston student's claim that she has a religious right to keep the vaccine from violating the temple that is her body. School officials at first rejected her religious exemption on the belief she is Catholic and the Catholic Church, starting at the top with the Pope, has come out in support of vaccines. She noted the school's acting chancellor gave her the chance to tell him she was not Catholic, but she never did.
She added that in their suit, the two "fail to show that the Vaccine Policy is not rationally related to a legitimate government end."
Casper's ruling comes two weeks after the US Supreme Court declined to hear a similar case in Indiana.