The state of New York, where there have been several high-profile measles cases contributing to a nationwide outbreak, just ordered a school to accept unvaccinated kids despite the school’s objections.
State officials sided with the parents of two students who sought faith-based exemptions to the school’s rule. The first time, in January, they said the girls could attend classes. The second time, in May, they said the girls could attend certain after-school events.
Now the school is suing the state saying officials are violating their First Amendment rights.
The Jewish day school is now asking a federal judge to overturn Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia’s orders, calling them “illegal, void and unenforceable.”
While the current measles outbreak has put the vaccination debate at the forefront of public health, the school is framing the dispute as a First Amendment fight.
“There are schools that have taken the position that under the school’s religious belief, as a matter of Jewish law, students should be vaccinated,” the school’s lawyer, Philip Kalban, told The Post. The parents may have a different and “sincere” belief about vaccinations, Kalban explained, “but they say it’s based on Jewish law, and our position is that Jewish law says just the opposite.”
The First Amendment comes into play because the school argues the state has no business interfering in a religious matter.
The question boils down to whose religious beliefs matter more.
This is a relatively novel approach to a worsening problem. If the family in question says the government can’t interfere with their religious right to ignore life-saving vaccines, why can’t the school say vaccines are necessary for the health and safety of students? After all, there is no major religious organization that formally opposes vaccination against infectious diseases.
At least a federal judge overturned the state’s decision a few days ago, saying that the attendance of the unvaccinated students might, “given the current measles outbreak… depress turnout among the parents and grandparents.” That’s a temporary ruling, though. A final decision on the students’ fate has not yet been made.
New York legislators are currently considering a law that would ban vaccine exemptions based solely on the basis of religion, but until then, cases like this will continue to negatively impact regular citizens. Hopefully people don’t die between now and when that law is enacted.
(Image via Shutterstock)