A decision by lawmakers in Albany last month to repeal the state’s religious exemption to compulsory vaccinations was sure to entice a legal challenge.
And critics didn’t disappoint. Attorneys representing 55 families filed a lawsuit last week in the state Supreme Court; they sought class-action status. The lawyers also requested a temporary injunction against the measure while the suit makes its way through the judicial system.
“Lawyers for the plaintiffs are Michael Sussman, who represented parents who sued Rockland County over barring unvaccinated children from schools, and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., chairman of the nonprofit Children’s Health Defense, an anti-vaccination group,” according to a story published July 10 by the Wall Street Journal. “The lawsuit names the state of New York, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Attorney General Letitia James as defendants.”
On July 12, however, Judge Michael Mackey wisely denied their request to block the state’s action. He cited previous court rulings supporting states’ rights to mandate vaccinations.
“The state’s action came amid a massive measles outbreak that has plagued New Yorkers since last September. Health officials have tallied 987 cases since then, mostly in unvaccinated children,” according to a story published July 12 by Ars Technica. “During the 2017-2018 school year, roughly 26,000 students in the state had religious exemptions from standard vaccinations.”
Mr. Kennedy, son of the late U.S. attorney general and senator from New York, said the state’s decision to repeal the religious exemption was unconstitutional. Children’s Health Defense, the organization he founded and chairs, has raised questions about the safety of vaccines.
But legal precedent is not on his side. According to a July 10 story published by the Associated Press, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that states have the right to enforce compulsory vaccination rules.
And the decision by parents not to have their children vaccinated has the potential of affecting others, particularly infants who are too young to receive the shots. If exposed to people with infectious diseases, they risk serious illness and even death.
We support the religious liberties of New York residents. But they don’t have the right to make health choices for other people. Withholding vaccinations from children puts those to whom they are exposed in danger.
The U.S. Supreme Court has come down on the side of science and public safety, and we urge the state Supreme Court to do the same. This lawsuit should be dismissed to ensure the protection that comes from vaccinations is expanded.