New York’s 2019 repeal of the religious exemption to its child vaccination requirements has led to multiple protests and multiple lawsuits. Parents with religious objections to child vaccination contend that the new law unfairly burdens their constitutionally protected rights by forcing them to choose between violating their beliefs, homeschooling their children, or moving to another state.
In one lawsuit, Sullivan-Knapp v. Cuomo, the adult plaintiff sought a preliminary injunction allowing her children to attend school without being vaccinated while her case was pending. The plaintiff argued that the vaccination law violated the New York State Constitution by infringing upon the free exercise of religion and upon her children’s right to a free public education. On October 9, Judge Robert B. Wiggins rejected those arguments.
Judge Wiggins ruled that existing legal precedent allowed the state to bar unvaccinated children from attending school, even if their parents object to vaccination on religious grounds. However, even as he upheld the constitutionality of the new law, the judge took the highly unusual step of lambasting the New York State Legislature for having passed it. The Judge made the following remarks:
“In closing, the Court wishes to re-iterate its displeasure with the Legislature’s apparent callous disregard for the sincere religious convictions of Plaintiffs and others similarly situated… [There] is uncontradicted evidence in the record that children not vaccinated because of a religious exemption make up less than 1% of the population, which hardly seems like a public health crisis… I do not believe the Legislature has come close to giving adequate consideration to its own explicitly mandated responsibility to “provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated…” Could not other, less Draconian, measures have been chosen…? Nonetheless, precedent appears to give the Legislature the authority to bar the doors to the unvaccinated, despite the unconscionable consequences that brings.”