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COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s state universities will require masks to be worn in campus buildings after a state Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

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The ruling affects the University of South Carolina and Clemson University.

The South Carolina Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that the University of South Carolina has the right to require all students to wear masks inside, The State of Columbia reported. In a six-page, unanimous decision, the court ruled that a state budget measure known as a proviso that passed in the General Assembly earlier this year “does not prohibit a universal mask mandate” at the public university, the newspaper reported.

The court did add that the university cannot single out unvaccinated students, meaning that all students must wear a mask regardless of vaccination status, according to The State.

Both South Carolina and Clemson issued statements declaring the mandatory use of masks indoors.

“I will require the use of face coverings in our buildings, effective immediately, as an effective strategy in slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus,” USC interim President Harris Pastides said in a news release. “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all members of our Gamecock community to help protect ourselves and others by adopting sound public health practices as we continue our efforts to safeguard our campus against this still-evolving health concern.”

Clemson also issued a news release about the mask mandate, WYFF reported.

“Following the South Carolina Supreme Court decision announced earlier today which permits higher education institutions to require a universal mask mandate, Clemson will require masks in all of its statewide buildings including classrooms, instructional facilities, offices, labs, and residential and dining halls except while eating or in private spaces,” the university said in a statement.

The requirement at Clemson is effective immediately for three weeks, according to WYFF. Classes at South Carolina begin on Thursday, The State reported.

South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said in a statement that the proviso was “inartfully drafted” but he believed the Legislature’s intent was to deny public universities the authority to issue mask mandates.

“While we disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we certainly understand its rationale and anticipated this was a reading the Court could give,” Wilson said.

South Carolina is the latest Republican-led state to establish mask mandates for its universities, The New York Times reported. Others include the University of Arkansas and all three Arizona state universities, according to the newspaper.

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