A federal judge in New York has ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not protect parents who want to send their unvaccinated children to school, The New York Times
Parents cannot fall back on claims that their religious rights have been violated when their children are barred from going to school in the interest of public health, ruled Judge William Kuntz. The judge upheld a New York City policy that kept unvaccinated pupils home when another child had taken sick with vaccine-preventable chicken pox, the Times reported.
Kuntz wrote in his decision that the U.S. Supreme Court has "strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations" based on either the First Amendment right to religious freedom or the 14th Amendment right to equal protection.
The case involved three defendants. Two families claimed outright religious exemptions while a third, a Catholic family, initially claimed a medical exemption and when that was denied, cited religious objections.
Dina Check, who first sought a medical exemption for her daughter, said she believes, "Disease is pestilence, 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," the Times reported.
Both New York state and New York City require children to be vaccinated in order to be enrolled in school. In unusual cases, individual schools may exempt a parent on religious or medical grounds. Schools in the state granted 3,535 religious exemptions in 2012-13.
The overall statewide immunization rate is 97 percent, the Times reported.
New York state does not permit parents to seek exemptions on the basis that they are opposed to immunization on principle or out of fear that vaccines cause autism
The judge cited as precedent a 1905 U.S. Supreme Court case which established that public health authorities can take action to prevent disease outbreaks, including smallpox.
Between February and April of this year, two school-age children whose parents refused to vaccinate them contracted measles in New York City, according to the Times.
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