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Court Rules Orthodox Jewish Family Not Eligible for Religious Exemption from State Mandatory Vaccinations
New York

A federal court in New York ruled that Orthodox Jewish parents failed to prove that they qualified for a religious exemption from a state mandatory vaccination law for public and private school students. Section 2164 of the New York Public Health Law (PHL) imposes a baseline requirement that school-aged children be immunized against certain enumerated diseases. In relevant part, the statute provides as follows:

No principal, teacher, owner or person in charge of a school shall permit any child to be admitted to such school, or to attend such school, in excess of fourteen days, without the [appropriate certificate by an administering physician] or some other acceptable evidence of the child's immunization against poliomyelitis, mumps, measles, diphtheria, rubella, varicella, hepatitis B, pertussis, tetanus, and, where applicable, Haemophilus influenza, meningococcal disease, and pneumococcal disease.

However, the PHL carves out two exemptions from this general requirement, namely: (i) a medical exemption for children whose pediatrician certifies that the required immunizations may be detrimental to their health, and (ii) a religious exemption. The religious exemption removes from the statute's purview "children whose parent, parents, or guardian hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to" the practice of vaccinating, and, as to them, requires no certificate of immunization as a prerequisite to their attendance at school.

A married couple (the "plaintiffs") enrolled their three daughters in a private Jewish school. The mother is a devout Orthodox Jew and has raised her three daughters in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. For reasons that she alleges are inexorably linked to her faith, she has not vaccinated her children and does not intend to do so. From 2010 to 2015, none of the daughters was vaccinated as required by the terms of the PHL because the mother applied for, and received, a religious exemption under the law.

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