Justices Decline Case on School Vaccinations

By Mark Walsh — April 22, 2013 1 min read
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The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to take up the appeal of a New York State couple who unsuccessfully sought a religious exemption from the vaccinations required for one of their children to attend public schools.

Andreas and Martina Caviezel say in court papers that they hold Pantheist religious beliefs, maintaining that God is in everything, and that they hold sincere religious objections to their youngest child receiving vaccinations required for attending the Great Neck, N.Y., public schools.

They sought a religious exemption from the school district, which denied it on the basis that the family’s beliefs were philosophical rather than religious.

A federal district court said the family’s First Amendment free-exercise-of-religion challenge to the decision could not succeed because the parents “failed to prove that they held genuine and sincere religious beliefs contrary to the practice of vaccination of students entering school.” The district court held that the fact that the parents had vaccinated their three older children undermined their religious claim for their youngest child.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, affirmed the district court. The three-judge appeals panel last year rejected the family’s arguments that the Supreme Court’s 1905 decision in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a landmark precedent upholding mandatory vaccinations for public health reasons, was wrongly decided.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the Caviezels, backed by the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute, did not mention the Jacobson decision. The appeal said the family has a “sincere religious belief that the human body is divine and that it is wrong to inject it with disease.”

In a brief opposing review by the Supreme Court, the Great Neck school system said the lower courts expressly acknowledged that religious beliefs need not be those of an organized religion. But those courts found as a matter of fact that the family’s beliefs in opposition to vaccinations were secular.

The justices declined without comment to hear the family’s appeal in Caviezel v. Great Neck Public Schools (Case No. 12-869).

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A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.