COVID-19 religious gatherings – Supreme Court prevents NY from enforcing limits

COVID-19 religious gatherings

This article, about a recent Supreme Court decision that prevents New York from enforcing limits on religious gatherings during the COVID-19 pandemic, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease. She is also a member of the Vaccines Working Group on Ethics and Policy.

On November 24, 2020, the Supreme Court ordered temporary relief preventing Governor Cuomo and New York officials from enforcing limits on gathering imposed on religious houses during the COVID-19 pandemic (Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn, New York v. Andrew M. Cuomo). The decision, as the dissents pointed out, raises concerns about the ability of states to limit religious activities in the interest of protecting believers – and the broader public – from diseases. But the per curiam opinion makes relatively limited changes to our First Amendment jurisprudence, though it may signal that the court will, in the future, change it, and does not at present change the legal framework governing vaccine mandates. Continue reading “COVID-19 religious gatherings – Supreme Court prevents NY from enforcing limits”

“Hear This Well” anti-vaccine group misrepresents Colorado legislation

hear this well

This article, about the anti-vaccine group, Hear This Well, was written by Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, Professor of Law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law (San Francisco, CA), who is a frequent contributor to this and many other blogs, providing in-depth, and intellectually stimulating, articles about vaccines, medical issues, social policy, and the law.

Professor Reiss writes extensively in law journals about the social and legal policies of vaccination. Additionally, Reiss is also a member of the Parent Advisory Board of Voices for Vaccines, a parent-led organization that supports and advocates for on-time vaccination and the reduction of vaccine-preventable disease.

It is not uncommon for anti-vaccine activists, like the Hear This Well group, to misrepresent pending legislation or passed legislation. Striking examples included anti-vaccine activists claiming that SB276, the California law that added a review of medical exemptions, would remove all medical exemptions.

Similarly, these activists proposed a proposition to undo Maine’s law removing the non-medical exemption from school immunization mandates. Opponents, apparently, misrepresented the bill to people, to the extent that some signed thinking they were supporting vaccine mandates

In California, as well, when opponents tried to put SB277 on the ballot, they misrepresented the law by trying to claim it mandated HPV vaccines, which was untrue.

It’s not clear whether the misrepresentations, at least in some of these cases, were out of intentional dishonesty or lack of understanding of the laws or bills in question. The results were the same – misrepresenting the law to others.

Following that tradition, in two posts addressing a newly proposed bill in Colorado, the anti-vaccine page Hear This Well misrepresented the new bill, sometimes just by using hyperbolic, misleading language and sometimes by making clearly incorrect statements.

Whether this was due to misunderstanding of the bill or intentional misrepresentation is impossible to tell, but at any rate, this could lead to people opposing the bill for incorrect reasons or because of misrepresentation. Continue reading ““Hear This Well” anti-vaccine group misrepresents Colorado legislation”

School vaccine mandates do not illegally discriminate – Prof. Dorit Reiss

Anti-vaccine activists have repeatedly claimed that statutes abolishing non-medical exemptions from school vaccine mandates are discriminatory. Some went as far as to compare it to segregation. Courts in California and New York, echoing years of jurisprudence, rejected these claims in recent years in no uncertain claims, making it clear that school mandates are not discriminatory. Continue reading “School vaccine mandates do not illegally discriminate – Prof. Dorit Reiss”

Legal challenges to stricter school vaccine mandates rejected by NY court

school vaccine mandates

On December 3, 2019, Judge Denise Hartman, from the New York Supreme Court in Albany (see Note 1), rejected a claim challenging the removal of the religious exemption from school vaccine mandates.

Judge Hartman has previously, in a careful decision upheld on appeal, rejected plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction on stricter school vaccine mandates. In this decision, she provided a well-reasoned, thoughtful analysis of the constitutional issues.

Judge Hartman found that the change in the law in New York was based on public health, not hostility to religion, and fits well within the extensive precedent upholding mandates without requiring a religious exemption.

This lawsuit was the strongest, best-argued challenge to the New York law on religious freedom grounds. Unless plaintiffs appeal, this is likely the end for any serious chance opponents had at overturning the law, and even on appeal, their chances are likely low. Continue reading “Legal challenges to stricter school vaccine mandates rejected by NY court”

US measles epidemic hits 1241 cases – get the MMR vaccine – UPDATED

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Health and Human Services have reported that the ongoing measles epidemic has, as of 19 September 2019, has resulted in 1241 cases in 31 states. This makes 2019 (which is around 9 months old) the worst year for measles since 1992, when there were 963 cases for all 12 months. 

At this rate, we can expect well over 1500 measles cases for 2019, making it the worst year since the major measles epidemics of the late 1980s. 

In 2000, the CDC had stated that measles was eradicated in the USA. But as a result of fears and misinformation about the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps, and rubella, vaccination rates have dropped allowing measles to again attack children. Continue reading “US measles epidemic hits 1241 cases – get the MMR vaccine – UPDATED”

Anti HPV vaccine memes – New York anti-vaxxers get everything wrong

antii hpv vaccine

The anti-HPV vaccine crowd is now furious about New York Senate bill S298A, which is now in the Health Committee of that body. Basically, the bill would add the HPV vaccine to the vaccine schedule for all New York children born after January 1, 2008. 

As I’ve mentioned before, many of us have observed that the anti-HPV vaccine beliefs are the strongest of them all in the anti-vaccine religion. Even among those who generally vaccinate their children will stop at the HPV vaccine, for reasons that make even less sense than their usual vaccine denial.

In response to the S298A, there has been a lot of nonsense being pushed about the vaccine. One of those anti-HPV vaccine memes reached the claws of this ancient dinosaur. 

And you know what we do here? Yes, we’re going to skeptically demolish it with real science. Continue reading “Anti HPV vaccine memes – New York anti-vaxxers get everything wrong”

New York vaccine exemptions law – UPDATE – appeals court rejects stay

New York Vaccine exemptions law

On July 12, 2019, Judge Mackey of the Albany County Supreme Court (see Note 1) rejected the temporary restraining order request of plaintiffs challenging the updated New York vaccine exemptions law which removed the state’s religious exemption for school immunization requirements (see Note 2). While this is only the first step in what is almost certain to be a long process, and full arguments were not yet heard, the content of the decision does not bode well for plaintiffs – in line with abundant jurisprudence. Continue reading “New York vaccine exemptions law – UPDATE – appeals court rejects stay”

New York vaccine law does not violate IDEA – Update – no injunction

New York vaccine law

On June 13, 2019, a revised New York vaccine law, which removed the religious exemption to its school immunization mandate, was signed by the governor. Anti-vaccine activists filed a lawsuit against the law, claiming it violates the First Amendment – a claim that flies in the face of extensive jurisprudence.

On July 26, 2019 a second lawsuit was filed against the law claiming it violates the IDEA act by keeping children with disabilities out of school, led by attorney Kim Mack Rosenberg who was involved in arguing against California’s law (though anti-vaccine activist’s Robert F. Kennedy’s jr. organization, Children’s Health Defense, took credit for it as well). Attorney Rosenberg is clearly highly competent, though unfortunately, also very anti-vaccine, and made the best case possible for her claims.

While there is not the same extensive jurisprudence on this issue as there is on other issues, there are good grounds to reject the claims here, since, as spelled out by public health scholars Ross Silverman and Wendy Hense, the barrier to children’s access to services is parental choice not to vaccinate, not a state-created impediment that targets children with disabilities. Other claims in the lawsuit are also problematic. Continue reading “New York vaccine law does not violate IDEA – Update – no injunction”

New York ends vaccine religious exemptions – protecting us from measles

vaccine religious exemptions

Sometimes, there’s excellent news with the fight to end vaccine-preventable diseases. On 13 June 2019, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo (see Note 1) signed a bill whereby the state of New York ended vaccine religious exemptions.

As a result of this new law, New York joins California, Arizona, Mississippi (yes, Mississippi), West Virginia (ditto), and Maine as the only states that do not allow religious exemptions, that is, allowing parents to claim that their religious beliefs are not compatible with vaccinations.

Since there are no mainstream religions that are opposed to vaccines, I have always found that this type of exemption was bogus and an excuse for parents to formalize their pseudoscientific beliefs. This put children at risk of dangerous and deadly vaccine-preventable diseases.

For New York, the removal of the religious exemption is critical. The center of the current US measles epidemic, which has struck over 1000 individuals, seems to be in the ultra-orthodox Jewish population in the state who have abused the exemptions. This gave us an unvaccinated population, concentrated in a small area, that was susceptible to a highly contagious and dangerous disease.

vaccine religious exemptions
Protecting New York from diseases. Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Anti-vaccine nutjobs, like Jim Meehan and Del Bigtree, using disgusting tropes like claiming that mandatory vaccinations are like the Holocaust, have tried to fan the flames of the anti-vaccine dogma by making the religious exemptions to vaccination as some religious liberty issue.

Of course, the legislative process to get this bill passed was not easy. According to an article in the New York Times:

The tension over the issue was readily apparent in the Capitol on Thursday as hundreds of angry opponents — many with young children and infants — pleaded with lawmakers to reject the bill, sometimes invoking the will of God, other times their rights as parents. The show of raw emotion affected even supporters of the bill.

Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Long Island Republican, framed the bill as “an attack on people’s First Amendment rights.” He added, “It’s still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life.”

vaccine religious exemptions
Protecting New Yorkers. Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash

As the vote came to a head, emotions were high:

As the Assembly vote slowly came in, the speaker, Carl E. Heastie, was forced to come to the floor and count votes, calling recalcitrant members to coax the bill toward the 76-vote threshold needed for passage. Several prominent Democrats, including the chairman of the health committee, Richard N. Gottfried, bucked Assembly leadership and voted no. In the end, it narrowly passed, 77 to 53.

As soon the vote count was called, shouts of “shame” — and more colorful invective — erupted from the Assembly gallery, where opponents had gathered to watch the proceedings. Assemblyman Jeffrion L. Aubry attempted to restore order, but the screams continued; unable to stop the shouting, Mr. Aubry took the chamber into recess as furious opponents headed into Capitol hallways.

The only shame that I see are recalcitrant legislators not voting to protect the health of children.

vaccine religious exemptions
Syracuse University protected from diseases. Photo by Ryan Jacobson on Unsplash

Nevertheless, the pro-science, pro-children, pro-health side won. And Governor Cuomo signed it into law.

This is how we stop the measles epidemic and save the lives of innocent children. Vaccines save lives.  So thanks – New York eliminates vaccine religious exemptions!

Notes

  1. When I was in graduate school, studying real biomedical science as opposed to anti-vaccine pseudoscience, I was a canvasser for Governor Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo who was subsequently elected governor of New York. Thus, I was 0.000047% responsible for this bill. You can thank me by buying me a beer.



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Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines

religious exemptions

In 2014, the Federal District Court of the Eastern District of New York rejected a claim brought by three plaintiff families against various aspects of New York’s school immunization requirements. The decision did not include any legal innovation: it was completely based on well-established precedent that schools can deny religious exemptions. But it offers a chance to reflect on what that precedent is, why it is in place, and what it means for us.

The take-home point? Our immunization jurisprudence gives states substantial leeway to protect the public health via vaccination requirements, specifically, in this context, by allowing states to decide whether, and under what conditions, to exempt students from school immunization requirements. But states have to actually use that power to achieve anything. By leaving the floor to the passionate, if passionately wrong, anti-vaccine minority, we are allowing them to undermine the right of the rest of us to be free from preventable diseases.

In other words, those who vaccinate need to speak up and make it clear to their elected representatives that they want state law to protect their children – and the community – against outbreaks of preventable diseases. The laws will not enact themselves, and our representatives need to know the public wants this protection, that the public does not want high rates of measles cases or other diseases.

Just like the diseases, anti-vaccine legislative successes, such as maintaining religious exemptions, are preventable. And just like the diseases, doing nothing won’t prevent them. Continue reading “Court upholds policy denying religious exemptions to vaccines”