RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS UNDER ATTACK

Last summer, hundreds of families testified in opposition to bills that would eliminate or limit the ability to claim a religious exemption to school vaccination requirements. The hearing on these bills went on into the early hours of the next day. While it seemed that these bills would not move forward, legislators on Beacon Hill quietly slipped similar provisions into the amendment S.3030 to the economic development bill H.5034.

This bill is still being debated in committee, and may be signed into law by the Governor on or before midnight on July 31. We urge you to contact your state representative to tell them to oppose these provisions. What’s at stake in Amendment S.3030 are sweeping changes to the laws applicable to religious and medical exemptions to school vaccination requirements. They would apply to public and private childcare and educational institutions including daycares, preschools, elementary, middle and high schools, colleges and universities. Most significantly, it would change the existing religious exemption law, which merely requires parents to state to the school in writing that vaccination conflicts with his or her sincere religious beliefs. Under the new law, it appears that religious exemptions would be processed through the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, using a DPH form. This form would include the statement that “refusing to immunize is against public health policy and may result in serious illness or death of the participant or others,” and would require the signatures of not only the parents but also a physician. Arguably, signing a form that includes this statement could expose the parent to future liability, adverse consequences with the Department of Children and Families, and could negatively impact child custody proceedings. Moreover, the proposed changes seem to grant DPH complete discretion on whether to approve an exemption and includes no details on the process for obtaining a religious exemption. Instead, the amendments instruct DPH and the departments of early education and care, elementary and secondary education and higher education to promulgate regulations to implement these amendments, further enhancing the ever-expanding powers of the administrative state.

It doesn’t end there. These amendments would also allow private schools to refuse to accept religious exemptions and allow them to mandate additional vaccinations not already required by DPH.

Finally, even medical exemptions would be limited. Many have experienced first-hand how difficult, if not impossible, it is to obtain a medical exemption. These amendments would further constrain the ability to obtain a medical exemption to school vaccination requirements for students whose doctors have determined there are certain vaccinations that the child should avoid. The amendments would narrow the acceptable criteria for medical exemptions to a vanishingly small list of contraindications. This would obstruct a physician’s ability to provide nuanced, individualized, appropriate medical care for children and young adults of all ages.

We urge you to voice your opposition to these gross encroachments on parental rights and religious liberties. Please call and email your state representative and senator and the members of the conference committee and urge them to remove the “Community Immunity Act” from Senate Amendment S.3030 to House Bill H.5034—lines 2943-3036. You may choose to do so by following this link.

For our families,

Andrew Beckwith, President & General Counsel

 

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