COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTW) — The South Carolina Supreme Court said Tuesday that public colleges and universities are allowed to require masks.
The Supreme Court said the higher education budget provision does not prohibit universal mask mandates but instead only prevents discrimination against unvaccinated students.
“If a statute’s language is plain, unambiguous, and conveys a clear and definite meaning, there is no need to employ the rules of statutory interpretation, and this Court must apply the statute according to its literal meeting,” the Justices wrote.
The justices said even though Attorney General Alan Wilson said the proviso is “inartfully worded” and “very poorly written”, it doesn’t prohibit a universal mask mandate.
Justices said “Nothing in the proviso manifests the General Assembly’s intent to prohibit all mask mandates at public institutions of higher learning. Instead, the proviso clearly prevents the state-supported institutions of higher education from using funds from the 2021-2022 appropriations to fund efforts requiring only unvaccinated individuals to wear facemasks. Nothing in the title or text of the proviso prohibits a universal mask mandate at a public institution of higher learning that applies to all students, faculty, and staff equally, whether vaccinated or unvaccinated. In fact, the proviso implicitly contemplates there could be a universal mask mandate, but its terms prohibit only discrimination against unvaccinated individuals by requiring them to wear masks when vaccinated individuals are exempt from that requirement.”
The justices compared Proviso 117.190 to Proviso 1.108 — which bans school districts from requiring masks — noting that 1.108 is clear in banning mask requirements, while 117.190 was worded differently, stating it was not intended to prohibit mask mandates at colleges.
Proviso 117.190 states: “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.”
Read the full decision below:
The South Carolina Supreme Court took up the case after the University of South Carolina issued a mask requirement on campus, which was then challenged by Wilson. Dr. Harris Pastides, the interim president of the university, issued a mask requirement on July 30, which was then rescinded on Aug. 3.
Wilson responded to the court’s decision by releasing the following statement:
“We said all along the proviso was inartfully drafted. While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we certainly understand its rationale and anticipated this was a reading the Court could give. In fact, the Court quoted our letter to President Pastides that stated the proviso could be read another way. 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.”
This is a developing story. Refresh for updates.