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Father sues New York to obtain religious vaccination exemption for son

Last updated on August 24th, 2019 at 04:33 pm

vax-jesus-doctorAccording to the New York Daily News, a Staten Island father has sued the City and State of New York to block his four year old son from being tossed out of school because their parents refuse to vaccinate him:

A Staten Island father is suing the city and the state after his 4-year-old son was booted from pre-K class because of the parents’ objection to vaccines.

The father, identified only as P.R. in the lawsuit over the contentious issue, is a Catholic who had sought a religious exemption to the state law requiring that every child attending a public, private or parochial school must be immunized from 11 communicable diseases.

His son was removed from his public school classroom on Dec. 23 after city Department of Education officials rejected the father’s appeal of an earlier decision. The city concluded the paperwork he submitted “does not substantiate … that you hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to immunization,” according to the suit.

Last month, the city added a requirement that children under 5 who attend preschool or day care must get flu shots.

The boys’ parents filed an affidavit Monday stating they believe that “immunization demonstrates a great lack of faith in the gift of health and the promise of protection that we are given at birth and through baptism we put our child in the hands of the Lord … God wants us to put our faith for disease prevention in him exclusively.

In general, most states (actually all but Mississippi and West Virginia) allow religious exemptions to vaccinations. New York, however, has taken a tougher stance on religious exemptions placing the burden on the parent to show that the vaccination actually violates their religion and that their religion isn’t some invented belief system not based on any real religion. You merely have to read through a few antivaccination websites (no, I’m not going to point you to them), where they promote methods of circumventing vaccinations through fake religious exemptions. Other states, like New Mexico, have also started clamping down on religious vaccinations.

So why did the Department of Education reject the father’s exemption request? Well, because he was claiming that his Catholicism is opposed to vaccination. And some bogus unscientific belief that a nonexistent being in the sky will prevent disease. In fact, the evidence indicates even if there is a sky being, he (or she) doesn’t really care about human beings given the number of infectious disease out there. 

But what does the real Catholic church say about vaccinations? Well, they seem to indicate that they are absolutely in favor of vaccines. 

One must follow a certain conscience even if it errs, but there is a responsibility to inform one’s conscience properly. There would seem to be no proper grounds for refusing immunization against dangerous contagious disease, for example, rubella, especially in light of the concern that we should all have for the health of our children, public health, and the common good.

I may not think much of churches, but this statement should be the mantra of the pro-science world of vaccines–the moral choice is to vaccinate children for their own health but for the good of all people. 

So this antivaccination father, who seems to lack a knowledge of science AND religious doctrine, is wrong on so many levels. Let’s hope that the New York courts give him a lesson in reality.

I still remain strongly opposed to the religious exemption, because it has no place in this discussion. Public schools should not be required to make decisions about students involving religion, whether it’s prayers, teaching creationism, or whether someone’s religious belief (fake or otherwise) means they can send their unvaccinated children to a taxpayer supported school.

Public schools, as a state-supported entity, should remain blind to religion. Per the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, religion has no place in any government discussion; should we allow a Department of Health bureaucrat to determine the validity of a religious practice? Of course not. Therefore, no religious exemption should be allowed, and those individuals who wish to practice some religion that outrageously believes that the gift of vaccinations, which prevents deadly diseases, is somehow against their religion, can send their kids to a private school or home-school. 

And as I discussed last year, the rise in religious exemptions has lead to a concomitant increase in the pertussis infection rate in New York state. I would like to know what religion would ever intentionally put children at harm (disregarding the Catholic Church’s reprehensible behavior towards pedophile priests)?

Let me make this clear. The United States Constitution does not give vaccine deniers some religious protection to exempt their kids from being vaccinated. Now, the Supreme Court of the United States, which, in case someone has failed their civics class, has the power through judicial review, to interpret the constitution. And in the case of vaccinations, through decisions in Jacobson v. Massachusetts and Prince v. Massachusetts (1944), the Supreme Court has agreed that states have the power to protect the citizens from communicable states which supersedes religious “liberties,” especially fake religious beliefs. Good for vaccines. Good for children. Good for the community health.

Note: If you have a chance, please read the comments. There is a response from Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of Law, one of the leading legal experts on vaccination in the USA (and I’ll bet Israel). She disagrees with some of my opinions about how we should look at religious exemptions from a strict legal point of view. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not an attorney, let alone a constitutional and tort law expert, nor will I pretend to be one on the internet or this blog. I would defer to her legal opinion on this matter, though I stand by my personal opinion that religion has no role in this decision. If you want to send your kids to public school, which should never be involved in any religious decision (period, end of story), then vaccinate them (unless there a very specific medical reasons). Whether it is true or not, the subject of this blog post is trying to use a fake religious belief, unsupported by religious scholars of the Catholic Church, to not vaccinate his kids. Keep religion out of the question.

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Michael Simpson

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