The US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has ruled (pdf) that a parent’s refusing vaccinations for her children against diseases is not a “free exercise” of religion, and is tantamount to neglect.
In April 2010, the Tuscarawas County (Ohio) Jobs and Family Services (TCJFS) took custody of the children of Charity and Brock Schenker as a result of a domestic violence matter between the parents. TCJFS determined that the children were “neglected and dependent” and worked out case plans for the parents which included psychiatric evaluations, drug testing and supervised visitation of their children. When TCJFS asked about the children’s immunizations, according to Secular News Daily, “Mrs. Schenker claimed she had religious objections to immunizations. The court informed her that the immunizations would be ordered.”
As a result of recommendations of court-ordered psychiatric evaluations and positive drug tests (both of which are often required in determining fitness of parents), Mrs. Schenker (who subsequently divorced her husband) visitations were terminated, and TCJFS filed a motion for permanent custody of her children in August 2011. According to the Secular News Daily, “the county laid out as evidence a number of instances in which Schenker did not comply with orders, refused home inspections, and more. But Schenker sued with eight claims, including conspiracy claims and, most significantly, claims that her First Amendment right to free expression of religion was violated.”
In its decision, the District Court found that “the mere assertion of a religious belief . . . does not automatically trigger First Amendment protections.” The court also stated that, “it has long been recognized that local authorities may constitutionally mandate vaccinations. Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) (affirming guilty judgment in prosecution under state compulsory vaccination law, noting that “[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own … regardless of the injury that may be done to others”).”
The court also cited Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), stating that, “The right to practice religion freely does not include parental liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease.”
The District Court dismissed Schenker’s claims in full, including the “free exercise of religion” claim, and permanent custody was granted to the county. The vaccination issue was not the only reason that permanent custody was granted, but was a contributing factor.
So, let’s make it clear–the US Constitution does not give the antivaccination cult some imaginary religious protection to exempt their kids from being vaccinated. In case the reader of this article is unclear about US legal theory, the Supreme Court of the United States has the power, through judicial review, to interpret the constitution, and they have, through the two cases mentioned above, given the power to the state to protect the citizens from communicable diseases–a legal precedent which supersedes religious “liberties.”
The right decision. Good for vaccinations. Good for children. And Good for the community health.
Whenever you hear about the “religious freedom” to not get vaccinated, you can quote Federal court rulings right back at them.
Vaccines Save Lives.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in September 2012. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.