(CN) – Parents whose kids were denied spots at summer camp because they haven’t been vaccinated have for the time being lost their bid to undo a mandatory vaccination policy they say violates their religious beliefs.
Orange County Supreme Court Judge Catherine M. Bartlett found the parents’ lawsuit, filed Thursday, defective in three key ways: the parents sued anonymously; the religious exemption they claim applies to them does not; and vaccination mandates without religious exemptions have been repeatedly upheld as constitutional, Bartlett ruled.
Eight families opposed to vaccinating for religious reasons accuse Orange County Health Commissioner Dr. Irina Gelman of abusing her authority in a May 23 order banning all people who have not been vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella from attending or working at any day or overnight summer camp in the county.
“There is no legitimate basis for non-medical exemptions relating to vaccine (sic) preventable diseases, as this issue has health and fiscal implications for the public at large,” Gelman said in the order, as quoted in the parents’ lawsuit.
“We cannot continue to collectively contend with the consequences of individual choices, it is time state legislators take action and vote to eliminate non-medical exemptions from vaccination,” Gelman said, according to the parents.
By enacting the override of state law without identifying a particular outbreak, the parents say, Gelman leveraged her position to bolster her own political agenda which opposes non-medical exemptions.
New York currently allows unvaccinated children to enroll in public schools if their parents plead the case for non-medical exemption. But Bartlett found the religious exemption only applies to public schools, “which definition plainly does not encompass the ‘summer camps’ at issue in this proceeding.”
The New York State Department of Health has reported an outbreak of measles in the lower Hudson Valley, and 324 confirmed cases in the state outside the New York metropolitan area. Orange County has the second-highest number of measles cases in the region with 39 confirmed cases.
Some of the families whose children had attended summer camps in the past say their children are effectively being deprived of that experience and “punished for their religious beliefs and those of their families” because they are not allowed back.
The New York Legislature is currently considering two bills designed to revoke protections from vaccine requirements for non-medical reasons. The parents say the bills motivated Gelman to issue her order.
“Commissioner Gelman recognizes that under current state law, religious exemptions are recognized and exist, whatever her personal disagreement with such exemptions or her own desire for new legislation,” the parents say in their complaint.
None of the families, represented by attorney Michael H. Sussman, have been exposed to measles or exhibit any symptoms congruent with the disease, they say.
Sussman and Gelman did not respond to requests for comment by press time.