Friday, October 26, 2012

Court rejects challenge to vaccination policy

Parents in a Long Island school district sought a religious exemption from the New York requirement that they have their children vaccinated in order to attend public schools. The parents said this requirement violated their religious freedoms. The Court of Appeals rejects the claim.

The case is Caviezel v. Great Neck Public Schools, a summary order issued on October 12. The New York Public Health Law requires school districts to exempt students from certain vaccinations if they are contrary to the family's sincere religious beliefs. After a preliminary injunction hearing, the district court ruled against the parents because "they failed credibly to demonstrate 'that they hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs which prohibit vaccinations.'” After an evidentiary hearing, the district court denied the claim, and the Court of Appeals (Raggi, Hall and Carney) affirms. There was no genuine and sincere religious belief.

The district court ruling details why the plaintiffs did not have a sincere religious belief against vaccinations. Testimony from the mother shows that she did not think these vaccinations are safe . This testimony makes for interesting reading. In isolation, some of the testimony might have religious implications:

Q. Why did you make that application for an exemption from vaccinations?
A. Because inside of my religious beliefs, which are personal religious beliefs, I don't believe that vaccinations are necessary.
Q. And why is it that you don't believe vaccinations are not (sic) necessary?
A. I just believe if you look at the human being, if you look at the universe, we're divine, we're just divine. It's just the design is perfect. There's no other way to say it. It's just perfect.
THE COURT: What's perfect?
THE WITNESS: The design of human beings.
THE COURT: The design?
THE WITNESS: The design, like we're divine.
THE COURT: Design of what is perfect?
THE WITNESS: Of the human being, of nature, or this world, of this universe is divine, it's just perfect. I don't know. Look at how a child is created. Look at how it's just flawless. There's no other word for it. It's just divine.You know there's the seed, the egg, the baby starts to grow, the whole woman's body shapes so that it allows for that, the breast gets bigger and prepares for the milk. When it's time for the baby to be born, the body knows.

But Judge Spatt was not convinced. "The Court finds that one of the reasons Mrs. Caviezel objects to vaccinations is because it may not be safe. She testified that it may be harmful and may cause autism. Her concern in that regard is real, and understandable, but it is not based on a religious belief. Even though she feels that the body is divine and therefore does not need medications, she conceded that, on occasion she takes Motrin and essential oils, indicating a selective personal belief—not a religious belief."

There is also no substantive due process claim. Over the years, parents have challenged various immunization policies under the Due Process Clause. The Supreme Court has rejected those challenges, particularly in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 26 (1905), which rejected a challenge to a smallpox vaccination
mandate, and Zucht v. King, 260 U.S. 174, 176 (1922), which cited Jacobson in rejecting a facial challenge to public school inoculation requirement. These cases are dispositive. While the plaintiffs in this case argue that Jacobson was wrongly decided, that is no argument for the Court of Appeals, which is bound by Supreme Court precedent.

No comments: