New York State’s requirement that children be vaccinated before attending public school has been upheld by a federal appeals court, according to the Associated Press.
The rule does not violate students’ constitutional right of religious freedom, said the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit this week. A previous federal ruling that students opting out of the immunization policy for religious reasons can be barred from school when another child has a vaccine-preventable disease was upheld by a three-judge panel. So far, three parents have challenged the ruling and plan to appeal the decision to the US Supreme Court. The City Law Department, however, said the requirement is in the best interest of public health.
New York law does allow an exemption for religious or medical reasons, but the exception is subject to an application process and review. Rebecca Davis O’Brien, writing for The Wall Street Journal, says two plaintiffs were opposed to their children’s removal from school when a fellow student was diagnosed with chicken pox. The third was not allowed an exemption because her objections were not based on “genuine and sincere religious beliefs” according to the New York City Department of Education.
“We respectfully disagree with the court,” attorney Patricia Finn said. “They only looked at one side of the issue. The court focused on the authority of the government to exercise police power to force people to vaccinate. People have the right to refuse medical treatment that could harm them.”
Judge William F. Kuntz II, of Federal District Court in Brooklyn, wrote in his ruling that the Supreme Court has “strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations.” The New York Times‘ Benjamin Mueller reports that because some diseases are experiencing a resurgence in areas with low vaccination rates, a strict mandate concerning vaccinations must be in place, along with limited exemptions. Plaintiff Dina Check said in her suit that the city had not properly handled her religious exemption based on the authenticity of her religious opposition.
“Disease is pestilence,” Ms. Check said, “and pestilence is from the devil. The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down. But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.”
Patrick McGeehan, reporting for The New York Times, writes that Finn believes the court will hear the appeal. “The issue is very timely, it’s ripe. People are very concerned about vaccines and other drugs being pushed on children.” She adds that the Supreme Court has not reviewed a significant case concerning mandatory vaccinations in 100 years. Furthermore, state law says that parents do not have to prove that their faith opposes vaccinations, but must explain a “genuine and sincere” religiously based objection. There are states that accept a philosophical objection in order to obtain exemption, but New York does not.