Court says that fake religious vaccine exemptions are not protected by the First Amendment


In April, 2010, a Federal District Court in New York denied a mother’s bid for a religious exemption to New York state’s mandatory vaccination rules. According to the article in the New York Law Journal, “Martina Caviezel, a self-proclaimed pantheist, sought a preliminary injunction allowing her to enroll her 4-year-old daughter in a Great Neck, N.Y., pre-kindergarten without getting the shots the state says the child needs. Caviezel relied on Public Health Law §2164(9), which exempts children from the requirement whose parents or guardians “hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary” to vaccination.”

Around September 2009, Caviezel submitted the New York exemption form to the school  requesting that her youngest child be exempt from the requirement that children be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella and other diseases. The school principal told her that her request would likely be denied. Caviezel  declined to meet with school superintendent to further discuss the exemption. She then sued after her request was denied, alleging civil rights violations.

At a hearing in March, 2010, Caviezel testified that her other three children were properly vaccinated. But she said she grew skeptical of immunizing her youngest daughter, as her religious beliefs in pantheism grew.

Also according to the article:

Caviezel was ordained as a minister after taking a one-day seminar at a Buffalo, N.Y., church called “Sanctuary of the Beloved.” She said she was not a member of any formal religious organization but described her religion as seeing “God in everything…in the flowers in the spring when the flowers bloom, in the miracle of birthing.”

She said she practiced her religion “mostly” by breathing, because by breathing, “I can be present to the presence of God.” She also testified that she expressed her beliefs through “gratitude” — by being thankful throughout the day.

Caviezel admitted that the church where she was ordained had not said anything about immunizing her children during the course she took there.

Eastern District Judge Arthur D. Spatt concluded, the Caviezels’ belief, while genuine and sincere, was not religious. “The judge cited Caviezel’s admission that her church was not opposed to vaccinations and that she took Motrin and essential oils as evidence of “a selective personal belief” regarding medicine, rather than a religious one. The judge discounted Caviezel’s fear of “injecting disease” into the body and the subsequent “unnecessary” scarring marks of the vaccination as “personal rather than religious fears.” The judge also pointed out that both Caviezel and her youngest daughter already had an “unnecessary marks”, pierced ears, to their bodies.

“The Court finds that her reluctance to have her daughter vaccinated does not arise from a religious belief, but from a personal, moral or cultural feeling against vaccination for her young child,” Judge Spatt concluded.

In Caviezel v. Great Neck Public Schools, (2d Cir., Oct. 12, 2012), the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court and rejected the parents’ constitutional challenges to New York’s denial of a religious exemption of the requirement that their children be vaccinated prior to attending public schools.  The 2nd Circuit agreed with the trial court’s conclusion that the plaintiffs failed to show a genuine and sincere religious belief when requesting an exemption for vaccinations. It also rejected that Caviezel’s First Amendment right to Free Exercise of Religion were violated by the lower court’s ruling.

Like another decision where the court ruled that the state has right to reject religious exemptions to protect children, someone tried to use a religious belief in a cynical attempt to prevent her children from being vaccinated. And once again, the courts continued to uphold Jacobson v. Massachusetts which clearly allows public authorities to mandate vaccinations for the greater good of society. In addition, the US Court of Appeals rejected the false belief that the First Amendment of the US Constitution provides protection to people who think that they can get vaccine exemptions even if they cannot prove that they actually belong to a religion that has some anti-vaccine belief.

My opinion: exemptions should be eliminated except for clear medical issues, which will simplify everything. It’s clear that religion is being abused as by the vaccine denialists, since very few mainstream religions deny the use of vaccines. Moreover, religious questions should NEVER be a questions with regards to public schools. Much like prayer or creationism, religious vaccine exemptions belong in religious schools not in public schools which simply cannot be involved in religious discussions per the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution.

Update: with new data showing that increased religious exemptions to vaccination is causing an increase in whooping cough infections in New York, it’s probably time to eliminate religious exemptions.

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The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!