Two Moms Want Shots Deep-Sixed
But Arkansas says religious exemption for vaccinations only go so
By Randy Dotinga
Nov. 16 (HealthScoutNews) -- In a case that could set a
precedent in the ongoing battle over immunization rights, two
Arkansas women are suing in federal court to stop the state
from forcing their children to be vaccinated.
one woman is fighting a hepatitis immunization, and the other
wants an exemption from a chicken pox vaccine, both say their
opposition is based in their Roman Catholic beliefs. They
argue that their religious convictions should outweigh state
officials, however, say the two plaintiffs have no choice
because they don't qualify for religious-based exemptions
granted when an entire religious group finds vaccinations
the state must uphold religious freedom, "we also have to
protect the public against communicable diseases," says
Reginald Rogers, deputy general counsel for the Arkansas
Department of Health.
other states, Arkansas requires children to get a variety of
vaccinations. In this case, chicken pox immunization before
kindergarten and hepatitis B immunization for kids older than
10 were mandated only a year ago.
Brock, a parent of four school-age children, objects to the
hepatitis B vaccine because it protects against a disease that
is mainly spread through sexual intercourse and intravenous
drug use, says her attorney, Mathew Staver. Hepatitis B
strikes the liver and can be fatal.
teaches her children to avoid premarital sex and illegal drug
use, says Staver, president of the Florida-based Liberty
Counsel legal organization. "It violates her religious
convictions for her to have the state mandate an injection
contrary to what she believes. It would be like the government
requiring a Jew to eat pork because the government wants to
promote pork," he says.
other mother, Shannon Law, opposes the recently developed
chicken pox vaccine because it was derived from cells taken
from aborted fetuses, Staver says. Law opposes abortion, and
forcing chicken pox vaccination on her son is akin to making
someone take a medicine developed during research on Holocaust
victims, he says.
state law allowing religious exemptions is too strict, the
lawyer says. "It gives preference to some religious
doctrines or institutions over others."
ruling against the state would be valid only in Arkansas, but
it could set a precedent if similar issues arise elsewhere,
Judge Susan Webber Wright heard arguments in the case last
week. The judge, who is famous for her rulings in the Paula
Jones case against former President Bill Clinton, seemed
skeptical of the state law allowing some religious exemption,
the state health department's attorney, declines to say how he
thinks Wright will rule in a decision expected later this
year. But he did say the state grants about 400 exemptions to
vaccinations each year on religious grounds.
state makes sure that those who get exemptions have
"sincerely held beliefs in a recognized church," he
law puts health officials in the unusual position of deciding
what an established religion is, and what it believes. But
that's an acceptable standard, says Arthur Caplan, director of
the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania.
state is trying to show that "you are an adherent to a
recognized religious tradition," he says. That makes
sense because "religion is not seen as subjective,
personal and individual," he says.
he says religion is grounded in society and culture.