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Home » Federal Court says NO to a religious exemption to vaccination

Federal Court says NO to a religious exemption to vaccination

Last updated on August 24th, 2019 at 04:06 pm

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.

And a Federal Court saw right through this specious claim by Ms. Check. Because New York State’s Public Health Law requires that children be vaccinated against a number of diseases, including mumps, measles, polio, diphtheria and rubella, no child is allowed into Public School without vaccination unless there is a medical or religious exemption. New York State courts have been reluctant, in the past, to allow the religious exemption if the school district determines that the religious exemption is not based on actual church doctrine. Interestingly, Ms. Check’s other children were vaccinated; however, she said she regretted doing so and has since turned to holistic medicine, in other words, junk medicine that doesn’t work.

The United States District Court, Eastern District of New York, issued a ruling in May 2013, by Magistrate Judge Lois Bloom and District Judge Sandra L. Townes. It stated, in part, that it was clear that Ms. Check genuinely believed vaccinations posed a threat to her daughter’s health, though there was no medical information to support that belief. The child suffers from gastrointestinal problems, and at one hearing, Ms. Check expressed fear that immunization could send her daughter into anaphylactic shock or even prove fatal. The little girl had a severe reaction to a shot she received as an infant. Again, there was no concurring medical testimony that supported her beliefs, and we have no access to the actual records that would support or refute the severity or causality of the post-immunization reaction. In fact, the school district rejected her attempt at a medical exemption, because there was no medical reason for not vaccinating, which lead her to using the religious exemption.

Magistrate Bloom wrote, referring to a recent hearing:

While [Ms. Check] attempted to characterize her opposition to immunization as based on her religious beliefs, her testimony establishes that [her] refusal to vaccinate her daughter stems instead from her overwhelming desire to protect her child from all dangers, both real and perceived. [Ms. Check’s] resolve to protect her child does not constitute a religious belief.

In other words, those misinformed fears about vaccinations did not arise from Ms. Check’s religious faith, the court ruled in blocking her injunction bid.

Judge Townes wrote, as a part of the decision, while Ms. Check’s religion plays an important, and even central, role in her life, “not every belief held by a religious person is a religious belief.”

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. A public official should never have to decide whether a religious belief, specifically about vaccinations, is legitimate or not. 

Keep religion out of the vaccination discussion, as public policy, in much the same way that religion should be kept out of all governmental decisions. 

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.

Vaccines Save Lives.


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Michael Simpson
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