A federal judge has upheld a New York City policy that bans unvaccinated students from public school when another student has a vaccine-preventable disease, the New York Times reports.
Judge William F. Kuntz II of Federal District Court in Brooklyn ruled against three families who claimed their right to free exercise of religion was violated when their children were kept out of school because of the city’s immunization policies.
The lawyer for the plaintiffs, Patricia Finn, said she will appeal the decision.
State law requires children to receive vaccinations before attending school, unless a parent claims religious exemption or a doctor states the vaccines will hurt the child. Parents must provide a written explanation of a genuine and sincere religious objection which school officials can accept or reject.
Two of the families in the lawsuit who received religious exemptions said disallowing their children to attend school without being vaccinated is a violation of their First Amendment right to religious freedom and their 14th Amendment right to equal protection under the law. According to the suit, their children were kept home from school when other students had chickenpox.
Dina Check, the third plaintiff, sued saying the city rejected her religious exemption after it denied her 7-year-old daughter a medical exemption.
The New York Times reported that New York City schools granted 3,535 religious exemptions during the 2012-13 school year, according to data from the state’s Health Department.
According to the National Vaccine Information Center, "a state must have a "compelling State interest" before this right (religious exemption) can be taken away. One "compelling State interest" is the spread of communicable diseases. In state court cases which have set precedent on this issue, the freedom to act according to your own religious belief is subject to reasonable regulation with the justification that it must not threaten the welfare of society as a whole."To read the full New York Times article, please click here.