States map 2015 for blog Written by Don Byrd

Legislation proposed in California that would end the availability of religious exemptions from vaccination requirements to attend public schools is moving forward in the State Assembly. SB277 has already passed the state Senate and was approved yesterday by the Assembly Health Committee by a vote of 12-6.

A measles outbreak in California earlier this year spurred a national conversation about parental rights to refuse vaccinations they find objectionable for personal reasons, including religious reasons. The bill in California would eliminate all personal objection exemptions.

The San Francisco Gate reports:

Currently, the broad waiver includes religious objections, which would not be offered under the current bill. The bill allows parents in California to continue obtaining doctor-approved medical exemptions for children who cannot be safely vaccinated as well as conditional admissions for those who intend to have their children vaccinated, but are not up to date at the time of enrolling in public or private school or day care.

Meanwhile, in Vermont, which has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country, exemptions were recently eliminated for parents with “philosophical” objections to vaccination requirements, but remain available for those with religious objections. As you might guess, this has prompted a religious revival in Vermont. Parents in the state are quickly finding God.

The Burlington Free Press reports:

[A] growing number of parents . . . say they will simply switch their philosophical exemption to a religious one. School nurses report that some parents already have done so.

“I had a student switch from a philosophical exemption to a religious exemption when they had heard about the bill” to repeal the philosophical exemption, said Louise Mongeon, school nurse at Burlington’s Integrated Arts Academy. The academy has one of the lowest vaccination rates in and around Burlington.

“I will become religious, if need be, to get a religious exemption,” [Lisa] Beshay said. “I will believe whatever I have to believe to not have my kids vaccinated. . .  .”

As the Baptist Joint Committee’s Holly Hollman pointed out in a column in February, “[f]ew religions believe that children should not be immunized, and the recent trend in avoiding vaccines has been tied to fears of health harms, not religion.”

Furthermore, there is no constitutional requirement, she writes, that states provide religious exemptions. “Protecting children and public health is an interest of the highest order and a clear boundary for understanding the limits of claims for religious exemptions.”