Court decides parent’s refusal to vaccinate kids is not “free exercise of religion”

©friendlyatheist.com, 2012
©friendlyatheist.com, 2012

For New Year’s Day, I’m republishing the top 10 articles I wrote in 2013. Well, actually top 9, plus 1 from 2012 that just keeps going.

#9. This article was published on 13 May 2013, and has had over 5000 views. A Federal court decided that refusing to vaccinate one’s children is not a constitutionally protected right covered by the First Amendment. 

The US District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has ruled (pdf) that a parent’s refusal to vaccinate 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 random drug tests, 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.” Continue reading “Court decides parent’s refusal to vaccinate kids is not “free exercise of religion””

Vaccine exemptions contribute to outbreaks of preventable diseases

vaccines-religious-exemptionOnce again, a new study is published in a peer reviewed journal that shows that exemptions to proper and recommended levels of vaccination for children before entering public school are harming the general population. I’ve talked about the issue of exemptions causing outbreaks or epidemics previously in New York, Washington, and other places

Over the past few years, there have been several outbreaks of whooping cough (Bordetella pertussis), including one that reached over 9000 individuals in California in 2010, considered one of the worst pertussis outbreaks in the USA during the past several decades

The original DTP vaccine (diphtheriatetanus and pertussis) became available in the USA in 1948 and was critical to dropping the number of cases of whooping cough from 260,000  in 1934 to less than a few thousand per year in the 1990′s. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends (pdf) that children should get 5 doses of DTaP (the replacement for the original DTP vaccine), one dose at each of the following ages: 2, 4, 6, and 15-18 months and 4-6 years. Those children who are not completely vaccinated according to these ACIP recommendations for pertussis are considered to be “undervaccinated.” 

Whooping cough is a serious disease that has significant complications for children:

  • 1 in 4 (23%) get pneumonia (lung infection)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will have convulsions (violent, uncontrolled shaking)
  • Two thirds (67%) will have apnea (slowed or stopped breathing)
  • 1 in 300 (0.4%) will have encephalopathy (disease of the brain)
  • 1 or 2 in 100 (1.6%) will die. In 2012, pertussis killed 18 infants in the USA.

Even in adults, there are substantial complications from whooping cough, such as broken ribs from coughing, that can have a significant impact on the overall health. Continue reading “Vaccine exemptions contribute to outbreaks of preventable diseases”

Federal Court says NO to a religious exemption to vaccination

circle-of-lifeDina Check, a practicing Roman Catholic who vehemently opposes immunization, sought a temporary injunction in February 2013 to  allow her daughter to return to PS 35, a New York City school in Sunnyside, Staten Island. The first-grader was barred from coming to school by the school’s and district’s administrators in February for failure to be vaccinated. She believed her religion states that the body is a temple, and contends injecting vaccines into it “would defile God’s creation of the immune system … [and] demonstrate a lack of faith in God, which would anger God and therefore be sacrilegious.”

Setting aside this ridiculous belief, since natural selection was the mechanism that caused the evolution of the immune system in all animals, the Catholic Church specifically and clearly supports the use of vaccines, even those that are manufactured with fetal cell lines. Once again, another vaccine denier, one who has no clue on how vaccines work and how they help make the immune system be prepared for deadly pathogens, decided to invent her own theology to avoid having her child protected against deadly diseases. Continue reading “Federal Court says NO to a religious exemption to vaccination”

Updated: make religious vaccine exemptions more difficult to obtain

flu church vaccineA recent report indicated that US state legislatures are beginning to pass laws that make it more difficult for parents to obtain so-called personal exemptions to vaccinations before children attend public schools. According to the author, Tara Haelle, “Each US state sets its own vaccination policies, and most will not generally allow children to attend public school unless they have been vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough)hepatitis B; the Haemophilus influenzae bacteriummeasles, mumps and rubellapolio; and varicella (chicken pox).” In general, most states require that students meet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention schedule (pdf) for children between 0 and 6 years old, which is set by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

All states allow legitimate medical exemptions from the immunization schedule before a child enters school, because of certain medical conditions that might make vaccinations problematic for young children. Some of these medical issues are: allergies to some of the components in the vaccines, immunocompromised conditions, family history of seizures, and other issues outlined in the General Recommendations on Immunization of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. These medical exemptions are extremely rare, but are very important. A licensed medical doctor is the only one that should provide this exemption. Continue reading “Updated: make religious vaccine exemptions more difficult to obtain”

Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana

creationist_wheel_of_misfortuneIn 2008, the Republican governor of Louisiana, Bobby Jindal, signed the Louisiana Science Education Act into law. The law contends that “the teaching of some scientific subjects, such as biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning, can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on such subjects.” The law gives permission to Louisiana’s teachers to “help students understand, analyze, critique, and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories pertinent to the course being taught.” OK, I understand, we need a state legislature to mandate that more critical thinking is necessary for evolution and global warming; and we don’t need any more critical thinking in other areas of science (sarcasm intended).

Though the law sounds like it would help teaching of science in the state, it really was nothing more than an attempt to get creationism (along with global warming denialism) taught in Louisiana’s public schools. Creationism refers to the belief that the universe and everything in it were specially created by a god through magical , rather than natural, scientifically explained, means. Creationism implicitly relies on the claim that there is a “purpose” to all creation known only to the creator. In other words, creationism is a religious belief, and no matter what argument is made (and I could write 50,000 words on the topic), creationism is not science because it relies upon a supernatural being, which means it can never be falsified, one of the basic tenets of the scientific method. The supporters of creationism attempt to claim that creationism is a scientific theory on the level of evolution, ignoring the fact that a scientific theory is “a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” Creationism is generally based on a fictional bookContinue reading “Antievolution legislation update–Louisiana”

Religion vs Gardasil

gardasil.colorAlthough I rarely state it on these pages, I am an atheist. As a scientist, I’ve examined the evidence for a god (any god), and found it lacking. I think religion, especially in the USA, can be dangerous. Religious fundamentalism is behind the attack on teaching of real science, such as evolution and global warming. Although some may argue that trying to block the teaching of evolution, in favor of creationism, is innocuous (though absolutely unconstitutional), most would argue that since evolution is the basis of all biology (and therefore, medicine), it is harmful. 

It’s when fundamentalist religion gets involved in medicine, whether it’s therapeutic abortions, vaccines, or stem-cell research, that it’s clear that religion becomes dangerous to human lives. I just want to focus on one tiny corner of the medical world, where religious beliefs block good medicine–HPV vaccinations.

For those of you may be unfamiliar with the HPV vaccine, it prevents infection by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted disease. The vaccine, known as Gardasil or Cervarix in the USA, specifically blocks HPV types 6, 11, 16 and 18; HPV types 16 and 18 cause approximately 70% of cervical cancers, and cause most HPV-induced analvulvarvaginal, and penile cancers. Cervical cancer, which afflicts 12,000 additional women and causes over 4,000 deaths annually in the USA, is considered the “preventable gynecologic cancer” because of the HPV vaccines. Continue reading “Religion vs Gardasil”

Antievolution legislation updates–Indiana and Montana

With respect to evolution denying legislative activities, 2012 was a fairly good year for science. Of course, Tennessee passed the anti-science Monkey Bill, which encourage teachers to present the “scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses” of global warming and evolution. Of course, there is no “scientific weakness,” just political debates that have no scientific relevance. But states like Indiana (through a shrewd maneuver of a Democratic legislator), Oklahoma, Alabama, New Hampshire and Missouri failed to pass proposed antievolution legislation, mostly through parliamentary issues, but also in an up and down vote in New Hampshire.

With the conclusion of the recent Presidential election, newly formed state legislatures are planning their 2013 legislative programs. So that means right wing, anti-science legislators in more conservative states are going to once again push evolution-denying legislation.

In Montana, state Representative Clayton Fiscus (Republican) is going to introduce a bill that will require the teaching of “intelligent design“, a form of creationism. This requirement would be in conflict with the 2005 Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District, where plaintiffs successfully argued that intelligent design is a form of creationism, and that the Dover school board policy violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The losing lawsuit against the Dover school district cost them over $1 million, money which could have been used for purposes such as teaching children real science. I can only conjecture whether the bill will include funding for school districts that implement this potential requirement to defend against the inevitable constitutional lawsuits.

Similarly, in Indiana, state senator Dennis Kruse (Republican) has told a newspaper that he plans to introduce a bill essentially written by the Discovery Institute (a non-profit religious “think tank” famous for its attempts at getting intelligent design taught in American schools). His bill will be similar to the aforementioned Monkey Bill in Tennessee and another one that was passed in Louisiana in 2008, the misleadingly named Louisiana Science Education Act.

I can only hope that as happened last year, either the state legislatures decide that the view of the American electorate has moved on from this anti-science viewpoint, or they just decide there are more important issues on the docket.

 

West Virginia tough on vaccine exemptions

The state of West Virginia (WV) has one of the toughest child vaccination regulations in the United States, not allowing any religious exemptions to vaccinations required before attending school. Only Mississippi has regulations this strict for allowable exemptions. Of course, as I have written, religious exemptions have been abused by vaccine deniers by creating “fake” religions so that parents’ antivaccination beliefs will be recognized by the state. In fact, only medical exemptions are accepted by the state (pdf), and their standards on who can meet the medical exemption are quite tough.

Continue reading “West Virginia tough on vaccine exemptions”

Circumcision–separating science from opinion

Circumcision is one topic that certainly brings up more emotion than just about any medical procedure. In fact, the same level of rhetoric is used for and against circumcision that one hears with regards to vaccines, or even abortion. Recently, the city of San Francisco attempted to ban the practice, but a judge ruled that only the state could regulate medical procedures. During the summer, a German court banned circumcision for religious purposes, though a German court banning a Jewish practice must have blown up irony meters across the world.

In any discussion about circumcision, there is general consensus that female circumcision, or female genital mutilation, is an abhorrent non-medical procedure that is simply an anti-female procedure in many male-dominated societies. We’re not talking about that, and any comparison between male and female circumcision is a strawman argument. It is also clear that part of the anti-circumcision argument centers around secularism and atheism, because male circumcision is integral to both the practice ofJudaism and Islam. That is a valid argument, and there could even be a concern that unskilled individuals performing ritual circumcisions could cause serious complications. I personally could care less about religious rituals as long as they don’t harm anyone, so this is where we need to determine what the evidence tell us.  Continue reading “Circumcision–separating science from opinion”

Louisiana will spend $12 million to teach creationism

The state of Louisiana is doing everything it can to force feed its students creationism despite numerous constitutional restrictions that prevent religious activities in public schools. It also passed the Academic Freedom Act in 2008 which allows “science” teachers to teach creationism as a “theory” equivalent to evolution to students. Of course, I also discussed how Louisiana provides vouchers for students to attend private Christian universities, some of which use textbooks that think a real Loch Ness Monster disproves evolution.  

According to an article in the the Lafayette, LA Independent Weekly, the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education considered a set of accountability guidelines for private schools at its July 24, 2012, meeting. Zack Kopplin, “an 18-year-old Rice University student best known for his efforts during the last two legislative sessions to repeal the Louisiana Science Education Act, was one of several people who addressed BESE recently in opposition of the controversial voucher program”,  testified that of the roughly 6600 spaces available for students under the program, 1350 will be filled “at private Christian schools that teach creationism and peg evolution as ‘false science.’” Kopplin claims that Louisiana is about to spend almost $12 million to fund the teaching of creationism through this new voucher program that uses public school funds to pay for tuition and certain fees at private schools for students who attend low-performing public schools and whose family income is below 250% of the federal poverty level.  Continue reading “Louisiana will spend $12 million to teach creationism”