Shortly after New York became the fifth state to end exemptions for its residents who object to vaccinating their children due to religious beliefs, a glimmer of hope has appeared.
Spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Children’s Health Defense (CHD) launched a multi-pronged attack against the religious exemption repeal last week.
In the first of a series of strategic lawsuits, Kennedy and fellow CHD attorney Michael H. Sussman challenged the constitutionality of the state legislature’s decision to remove the religious exemption clause in the public health code last month.
The plaintiffs, 55 New York State families who held lawful religious exemptions, requested that the New York Supreme Court halt the enactment of the repeal with a temporary restraining order (TRO) before hearing the case.
Last Friday, however, the TRO request was denied.
A statement from Mr. Sussman reads:
I have received a written decision from Albany County Supreme Court Justice L. Michael Mackey denying our request for a temporary restraining order [TRO or stay] against the force and effect of the religious exemption repeal.
Justice Mackey reasoned that other courts have upheld the state’s right to order mandatory vaccinations and concluded we had not met or carried the very high burden of demonstrating substantial likelihood of ultimate success on our claims, a burden which the party seeking a TRO must meet. That we may disagree is of no immediate moment.
The Justice set a further briefing schedule and expressed the view that if we can demonstrate the merits of our case before him or another Judge, we will have time to do so before September and the extensive irreparable harm children will then suffer.
This is not the decision I had hoped for, but I recognize that getting a TRO against state legislation is very difficult. I hope that further development of all the issues will cause this or another Judge to preliminarily restrain the operation of this statute and I will be working on making that happen.
The 55 families, who represent just a small slice of the tens of thousands of people affected by the unconstitutional repeal, are sincere practitioners of several different religions, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, and others. Now, because New York legislators were so quick to make a show of their “progressive” values, these families are left scrambling with the decision to either homeschool, move out of state on extremely short notice, or violate their sincere, faith-based convictions against the practice of vaccination.
Assemblyman Thomas J. Abinanti was one of several legislators who fought the bill to repeal exemptions, arguing that the right of the individual to honor their faith and their God-given conscience is supreme above the right of the state to mandate even the best-intentioned medicines or procedures.
In a speech given on the Assembly floor in June, Rep. Abinanti said:
This is about whether someone can say, “my body is inviolate. I believe that, deeply and fervently, my body is inviolate and you don’t have, as a government, the right to take that right away.”
It’s about our implementation of the First Amendment, through the Fourteenth Amendment, where we as a state have an obligation to treat everyone equally without discrimination. It’s about whether we’re going to tell school districts that they have carte blanche authority to withhold from certain individual students the right to be educated alongside others because of their religious beliefs.
In their first lawsuit, CHD argues that the repeal of this “longstanding religious right, without a single public hearing, unreasonably interferes with religious freedom.”
“To deprive families of the rights to freedom of religious expression, parental rights, and the right to either a public or private education, the state must demonstrate a “compelling state interest” that the state has failed to prove here,” said Sussman.
“Furthermore,” CHD states, “the state must act with neutrality towards all religious faiths and may not display impermissible animosity or hostility to religion. Yet, in this case, many NYS legislators showed great animosity to those with religious exemptions, calling the nature of the exemption ‘utter garbage,’ ‘a myth and fabrication,’ ‘a loophole,’ and many other slurs.”
“Religious rights are fundamental,” Kennedy said of the lawsuit. “It is unconstitutional for the state to deprive people of such important rights when religious animus has played a key role. To enact such harsh legislation without any legislative fact-finding, and with the legislators’ open display of prejudice towards religious beliefs different than their own, is simply un-American; it is essential that we fight this.”
The families of New York have a long, hard road ahead of them in their fight to become the first state to reinstate vaccine exemptions. Please keep them in your prayers.
The extreme attacks against parental and religious liberties aren’t dying down. As rhetoric against “anti-vaxxers” grows more hostile each minute, we must not grow complacent and think that such severe restrictions of liberty, even what we allow into our own bodies, couldn’t happen in our own home states.
It can happen, and it may very well happen. When it does, we need to step up and fight it. Whether or not your family vaccinates, a threat to the rights of any parent is a threat to all.
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