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Claims of religious freedom must give way in the face of the compelling interest of society in fighting the spread of contagious diseases through mandatory inoculation programs. Into this equation, the New York Legislature has inserted the provision of N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2164(9). However, society's compelling interest in preventing disease must override any personal opposition to immunization that some persons may possess. Therefore, the statutory exception must be restricted to persons whose opposition to immunization stems from "religious" belief; not views founded upon medical, personal, philosophical or even moral considerations. Both the United States Supreme Court and the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit have stated that "religion", in this context, must involve the "ultimate concerns" of individuals. The Second Circuit holds that a touchstone of a religion is the believer's categorical disregard of elementary self-interest in preferences to transgressing the religious tenets.
Plaintiff parents desired to register their almost four-year-old daughter in the school district's pre-K program, without being vaccinated. By the provisions of N.Y. Pub. Health Law § 2164, the child had to be vaccinated with regard to the diseases set forth in the statute. The parents asserted that their child could be exempt under § 2164(9) based on their sincere religious beliefs which formed their objections to their daughter's immunization by way of vaccination. The parents moved for a preliminary injunction.
Did the child’s parents hold sincere religious beliefs that would justify their objection to their child’s immunization by way of vaccination?
The district court found that the parents sincerely and genuinely opposed vaccinations for their daughter, but failed to prove that these objections were "religious" in nature. Although they need not be a member of an organized religion, the mother was a member of the Sanctuary of the Beloved Church. There was no evidence that this church in any way expressed opposition to vaccinations. In fact, the mother testified that her church was not opposed to vaccinations. There was another simple non-religious explanation for the parent's reluctance to have their daughter vaccinated; that they believed the vaccinations could not be safe. This was surely a rational fear, but it was not of a religious nature. The motion for a preliminary injunction was denied.