Judge William F. Kuntz II has ruled to uphold a New York City policy that bars unvaccinated children from attending school when another student has a disease preventable by a vaccination, reports The New York Times.
In the ruling, Kuntz wrote that the Supreme Court, "strongly suggested that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations."
Three families filing suit contended that the school policy preventing their unvaccinated children from attending school at risky times is a First Amendment violation of religious freedom. The Brooklyn Eagle reported that Nicole Phillips, Fabian Mendoza-Vaca and Dina Check had decided not to vaccinate their children on the grounds of "sincere religious belief."
From a public health standpoint, the small unvaccinated percentage of the population threatens efforts to eradicate preventable diseases from society. Depending on the contagiousness of the specific disease, a certain percentage of the population must be vaccinated in order to prevent an outbreak, due to a phenomenon known as "herd immunity," reports The Times. For highly contagious diseases like measles, that percentage is as high as 95%, which means that even a few unvaccinated children could pose a hazard to an entire school.
Kuntz cited a 109-year-old ruling on public health as a precedent in this case. He also pointed to a more recent Brooklyn federal court decision that said, "the free exercise clause of the First Amendment does not provide a right for religious objectors to be exempt from New York's compulsory inoculation law.”
Check told The New York Times that her opposition to vaccination stemmed from a "religious revelation" she had during her difficult pregnancy, as well as allergies that afflicted her infant daughter after a couple vaccination shots. "The devil is germs and disease, which is cancer and any of those things that can take you down," she said. "But if you trust in the Lord, these things cannot come near you.”