A New York court ruled that a state law barring unvaccinated children from attending public schools did not violate the constitutional right of parents to the free exercise of their religion. Three parents with school-age children (the “plaintiffs”) filed a lawsuit challenging New York’s vaccination law, which required children to be vaccinated and offered a religion-based exemption, but prohibited unvaccinated children with a religious exemption from attending school each time any schoolmate contracts a “vaccine preventable disease.”
The plaintiffs claimed that their constitutional right to the free exercise of religion was violated when their children were excluded from school due to their religious beliefs running counter to vaccination practice. Plaintiffs argued that their children were “arbitrarily, capriciously, unreasonably and unconstitutionally denied” the right to free exercise of religion based on the state vaccination practice.
The court, in rejecting the plaintiffs’ claims, relied on a 1905 ruling by the United States Supreme Court, and more recent federal cases in New York, finding that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations. Jacobson v. Commonwealth, 197 U.S. 11 (1905), Caviezel v. Great Neck Public Schools, 739 F.Supp.2d 273(E.D.N.Y. 2010) (“the free exercise clause of the First Amendment does not provide a right for religious objectors to be exempt from New York’s compulsory inoculation law”).
What This Means For Churches:
An increasing number of public elementary and secondary public schools have adopted policies requiring the vaccination of students. Many of these policies are based on state law. While religious exemptions are recognized in some states, many exemptions are conditional and, as this case demonstrates, will not always apply. Phillips v. City of New York, 2014 WL 2547584 (E.D.N.Y. 2014).