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Today, California lawmakers introduced legislation (SB 277) that would eliminate the "personal belief" exemption for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.

In the wake of a recent measles outbreak in Southern California, California lawmakers proposed legislation on February 4, 2015 that would require that all children be fully vaccinated before enrolling in school.

Under existing law, Health and Safety Code section 120335, California school children are required o be vaccinated unless they complete a "letter or affidavit stating beliefs opposed to immunization" as outlined in section 1203655 or there is a statement from a physician that the child has a condition rendering vaccinations unsafe (section 120370).  Similar "religious belief" exemptions are available in 46 states. However, parents who want to use a personal belief exemption must first talk with a "licensed health care practitioner" about consequences of not vaccinating to their children and community.

Over the past few years, many parents have opted out of vaccination because they question the safety of vaccines, they are philosophically opposed to vaccines, or on the basis of sincerely-held religious belief.

Senate Bill 277, introduced on February 19, 2015 by California Senators Richard Pan (Sacramento) and Ben Allen (Santa Monica) repeals the ability of parents to obtain a "personal belief" exemption from vaccinating their children.   It will require that children must be immunized for various diseases, including measles and Pertussis in order to be enrolled in school.

Senate Bill 277 will eliminate the "personal belief" exemption altogether.

Senator Pan, who is also a pediatrician, states on his website that "It is easy to forget what it was like before we had broad-based vaccinations and there was a lot of suffering and even death from serious infectious diseases," said Senator Ben Allen. "We cannot risk returning to those days.  Parents should not have to live in fear of their child contracting a potentially fatal disease at school or in the grocery store because of another parent's choice not to vaccinate their child."

Citing statistics that indicate that immunization rates have dropped below 90 percent in some areas, Senator Pan indicated that the protection of "herd immunity" may be at risk, thus causing more people to become infected.

There are very few religious groups that prohibit vaccinations entirely, and perhaps Christian Scientists are the only group that have a doctrine opposed to medicine. But there are others who have various levels of opposition to vaccines on religious grounds, and it is difficult to gauge the sincerity to which some have requested the religious exception. But then, when it comes to religion, the government has traditionally been loathe to engage in the process of vetting the strength of religious beliefs of citizens in deference to the relationship between adherents and their choice of deities.

If a person of a particular faith raises the spectre of religious objection to anything from joining labor unions to uniform requirements that violate particular garb rules, to holy day observance requirements, the government has traditionally tried to find ways of accommodating those beliefs and working out reasonable solutions so long as it does not pose an undue hardship or significant expense on the accommodator. The government does not investigate whether the faith is legitimate or the level of the believer's orthodoxy.

If SB 277 passes, California will have passed a law that will expressly forbid religious accommodation despite the fact that under existing law, herd immunity has until recently prevented diseases from spreading even among those who are not immunized.

Religious freedom often hinges on what happens on the fringes of society. In 1990, the U.S. Supreme Court dramatically restricted the free exercise clause because a state did not want to make exception for some people who smoked peyote as part of their religion (Employment Division v. Smith). Those who were concerned about the Smith decision did not have to use peyote to realize that it was necessary to pass corrective legislation in the form of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Science shows that vaccinations work and are beneficial, and for the vast majority of people SB 277 is a good idea. But I also believe that California legislators need to carefully consider the ramifications to the free exercise of religion if they require vaccinations for those who object on sincerely held religious grounds. If SB 277 is upheld, the "health and safety" argument can be stretched to cover almost any incursion on basic freedoms, and present some very unpleasant unintended consequences in the future.

While those who do not vaccinate their children are not in the mainstream, and an even smaller number choose not to do so for religious reasons, a real question remains as to how far the government can go in forcing parents to vaccinate their children in violation of their religious beliefs.

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7 Comments

  1. Besides infringing on religious freedoms, the government will be stripping away our freedom to choose what goes into our body. That, in my opinion, is a very slippery slope AND is in direct violation of our most basic constitutional rights.

    I don't care if you choose to vaccinate or not, but one other fundamental flaw I see in the Senator Ben Allen's argument: “We cannot risk returning to those days. Parents should not have to live in fear of their child contracting a potentially fatal disease at school or in the grocery store because of another parent’s choice not to vaccinate their child.” – is this: If your child is vaccinated, why are you so afraid of someone who is not? If your vaccines work, why are you afraid?

    Folks, please do not allow fear and senseless panic to run your life. Educate yourself on both sides, make decisions for yourself, and DO NOT let our government take any more freedoms away. Give an inch & they take a mile!

    One other thought: what is the plan to address non-vaccinated visitors to our country (legal & illegal visitors) and the diseases THEY bring? The Disneyland "outbreak" was a completely different strain than what the general public was "protected" against – yet vaccinated persons still contracted it. Hmmm…

    I propose 100% transparency in vaccine & drug makers' research and test results BEFORE ever making mandatory vaccinations. Do yourself a favor – open your mind JUST A LITTLE BIT, and watch this TED Talk: Ben Goldacre: What doctors don't know about the drugs they prescribe

    Peace! And I truly hope the best for you & your families.

  2. My classmate died from vaccination at the age of 11. While such complications are rare they do happen (please, check VAERS database). Should the parents of the dead child have a right to reject vaccine to their other child? How would they feel if California unconditionally mandates vaccination when they see their child dying from one? Does the friends of these parents have the right to review vaccination schedule for their children when they see a child of their friends died from vaccine? Please, let me remind you that the people in California are humans, not cattle.

  3. Diane ferrois says:

    11) Any other disease deemed appropriate by the department, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
    This puts the decision of which vaccinations ALL CHILDREN IN CALIFORNIA must receive into the hands of not even doctors, but bureaucrats. Is that something that you are personally comfortable with, because I am certainly NOT.

    Above part of the bill is enough to have everyone oppose this bill. Are any of you comfortable with the government having carte blanch to decide what goes into your body or the bodies of your children cause that's the right you are giving up if you allow this bill to go forward. Do your own research. Vaccines are NOT 100% effective, you can still catch the disease, you cane still carry the disease and give it to others.

    For those of you who believe in herd immunity and public health, what about all the smokers out there who lives in apartment buildings and smoke at home. That second hand smoke travels through the air vents into other homes. Making other children and adults sick. Then we should ban all cigarettes for public health, we absolutely know how many people die from cigarette smoking. What would all the tobacco companies say about that. How can you let the government decide what good or bad they will allow for you. Why are you so willing to give up your rights

    This is entering into A BRAVE NEW WORLD territory. I cannot understand why intelligent human beings are so willing to give up their rights to the government. Educate your selves, read all the propaganda they are putting out there. The fear they are using against you. Why is the media only presenting one side, must vaccinate, and never presenting the other side. Our rights to choose, and all the things medically that can go wrong with vaccines. It's. Not only autism you should be afraid of, it's encephilitis, brain damage and a host of other problems. Have any of you ever read the insert that comes with vaccines? Ask your dr about it. If you read it you'll run screaming with your child in hand, from the office. It will scare the hell out of you, yet you go blindly and let them do what they want to your body and the body of an infant, whose brain has not fully developed. You scare me!

  4. The new law would benefit only Merck corporation and health insurers, and our children is the price we are supposed to pay. Medical companies have zero liability for the adverse effects of vaccines. The California senators often brings evil laws to benefit corporation under umbrella of good intentions whenever something happens.

    Now MERCK will push for more abortions because aborted material is needed to produce vaccines. Under the new law doctor won't even bother telling what is inside vaccines and what are the possible effects.

  5. B Gregory says:

    Childhood illnesses were one of God's creations. We do our best to provide a good environment so our children will be healthy. If they get sick, it is wonderful to have medical treatments, and if a child dies, he died a natural death. If, on the other hand, we vaccinate a healthy child knowing that there is a risk however small and that child dies, we are guilty of murder. God did not make a mistake when he created us or disease. We make a mistake when we try to play God.

 
 
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