December 2015 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a lawsuit raising a religious challenge to New York’s vaccination requirements for public school students.

State law requires parents to vaccinate children before they can enroll them in public school. Religious exemptions are permitted, but schools can send unvaccinated children home during outbreaks of infectious disease. A group of parents challenged the law, asserting that it violated their religious-freedom rights.

“Disease is pestilence,” one parent explained to The New York Times in June. “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 parents’ argument failed to persuade lower courts. Judge William F. Kuntz of the Federal Court of Brooklyn cited a century-old Supreme Court verdict that “strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations” and ruled against the challenge. A state appeals court later agreed.

By refusing to hear the Philips v. City of New York case, the high court left the vaccination laws in place.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman applauded the move in a statement. “Protecting children from debilitating communicable diseases should be a top priority,” he said.

As this issue of Church & State went to press, the high court announced that it will hear a series of cases brought by religious non-profit groups challenging the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Look for a full report on that in the January issue.