Judge Denies Injunction of NY Law Repealing Religious Vaccine Exemption

On Aug. 23, 2019, New York State Supreme Court Judge Denise Hartman issued an Opinion upholding a law passed by the New York State Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 13, 2019 repealing the legal right of parents to obtain a religious exemption vaccination for their children to attend school and daycare programs.1 2 3

Even though New York school children have a 97 to 98 percent statewide vaccination rate for two doses of MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine,4 the New York legislature moved to repeal the religious exemption to vaccination on one day with no public hearings in response to a measles outbreak in New York City and nearby Rockland County that began in the fall of 2018 in orthodox Jewish neighborhoods with low vaccination rates.5

Judge Hartman’s ruling is the second rejection by the New York Supreme Court of a legal effort by parents to delay or stop the implementation of the new law banning children from attending school unless they have a state health department-approved medical exemption to vaccination. On July 12, 2019, New York Supreme Court Judge Michael Mackey denied a request for a temporary restraining order to delay  implementation of the new law. The restraining order request was filed by civil rights attorney Michael Sussman of Goshen, New York and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., founder of Children’s Health Defense, on behalf of 55 families holding different religious beliefs.6

According to news reports:

The new law says unvaccinated kids must be kicked out of school next month unless they get their first shot within the first 14 days of school and can document within the first 30 days of school they have appointments for follow-up doses. Schools face fines of up to $2,000 for each child admitted in violation of the law.s.3

Judge Rejects Legal Arguments Challenging Constitutionality of Religious Exemption Repeal by Legislature

In her 32-page decision, Judge Hartman refused to grant a preliminary  injunction that would have halted implementation of the repeal of the religious vaccine exemption by the New York legislature in response to a lawsuit filed by Sussman on behalf of plaintiffs. The lawsuit challenged the constitutionality and legality of the law repealing religious exemption to vaccination based on the First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and, additionally, argued that the new law forces plaintiff’s to either engage in compelled speech or violate New York’s mandatory  education laws.7

Last year, approximately 26,000 children in New York attended school with a religious exemption to vaccination, which represents less than one percent of all school children in the state. About 4,500 attended school in New York last year with a medical exemption.8

In considering the accounts of 330 parents who had submitted sworn affidavits to the court explaining how they planned to leave the state or home-school them rather than vaccinate them, Judge Hartman acknowledged the “magnitude of disruption and potential harm” families may suffer if they are forced to violate their religious beliefs and vaccinate their children, teach them at home or leave the state. However, she wrote, “The Court is hard-pressed to conclude that the plaintiffs have shown that the balance of equities tips decidedly their favor.”2 3

Judge Hartman determined that the plaintiff’s legal challenge to the new law would not be successful. She wrote, “Because plaintiffs have not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits, the Supreme Court denies the request for a preliminary injunction; the legislative repeal of the religious exemption remains in effect.” She noted that, “For at least a quarter of a century, the courts have repeatedly upheld the states’ compulsory vaccination laws.”1 2….


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