Does California’s vaccine requirement infringe on the right to privacy or freedom of religion?

A California Court of Appeals has rejected the claims that schoolchildren can be exempted from vaccination on religious grounds. The appellate court upheld a 2016 state law saying every child must be vaccinated against 10 diseases before they are admitted into any public schools. The ruling dismayed parents of unvaccinated children and several anti-vaccination pressure groups.

The court ruling was in response to a lawsuit filed by four California parents and the anti-vaccine group A Voice for Choice against the California education department. The litigants claim the state law enforcing vaccination violates their rights to privacy, public education, due process and freedom of religion as guaranteed under the California Constitution.

Plaintiffs’ Arguments Were ‘Strong on Hyperbole and Scant on Authority’

The appeals court rejected the lawsuit on the grounds that claims made in it are not supported by any case law and also violate the duty of the state to protect young citizens. Associate Justice Ronald Robie wrote that the “plaintiffs’ arguments are strong on hyperbole and scant on authority.”

Brad Hakala, who represented the plaintiffs, expressed disappointment at the decision in an email to Courthouse News, saying the court did not address all the constitutional issues raised in the lawsuit.

“The right to attend school in California is fundamental. So is the right to privacy, especially for medical records. This decision, if upheld, forces children and their parents to jump through tremendous obstacles before exercising their fundamental right to attend school, which would also include the necessity to disclose their confidential medical records,” said Hakala.

The law to vaccinate all schoolchildren in California was passed in 2016 after Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 277 into law. This was in direct response to a measles outbreak at Disneyland where 147 people were affected, with 131 of them happening in California. Investigators later said the outbreak was made worse by the large numbers of unvaccinated children in the region.

The law mandates parents to vaccinate their children against whooping cough and measles and eight other diseases unless there is a medical exemption.

But opponents of the law say vaccination causes autism and other children’s diseases, claims the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) refutes as baseless.

Compulsory Immunization Outweighs ‘Liberty Interests’

The court of appeals wrote that compulsory immunization is required to prevent the spread of contagious diseases. The choice not to vaccinate children endangers community immunity and increases the incidence of epidemics. Robie added that the duty of the state of California to contain diseases far outweighs the “liberty interests” the plaintiffs assert.

Associate Justices Louis Mauro and William Murray, the other two justices on the panel, also agreed with Robie. The state attorney general’s office and the state education department did not comment on the appeals court’s ruling.

 

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