Judge Tosses Suit by NY Anti-Vaxxers Alleging Religious Bias

(CN) – Three months after health officials declared the end of a measles outbreak, the New York attorney general is celebrating the end of a lawsuit that cast the state’s vaccine mandate as religious discrimination.

“Vaccines ensure the health and safety of our children, our families, and our communities,” Attorney General Letitia James in a statement Saturday.

“This law will help protect New Yorkers from experiencing any additional public health crises, which is why we vigorously defended it. We are pleased with the decision by the court.”

A vial of a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine at a clinic on May 15, 2019. (AP file photo/Elaine Thompson)

New York passed changed its vaccine rules in June as two Jewish orthodox communities in New York became the epicenter of the country’s biggest measles outbreak in over two decades. While the state continues to honor medical exemptions, parents can no longer use religious objections to enroll their unvaccinated children in school.

The repeal spurred a lawsuit in Albany County Supreme Court by a class of anonymous anti-vaxxer parents, represented by upstate attorney Michael Sussman.

Acting Justice Denise Hartman dismissed the lawsuit last week, finding that lawmakers relied on a vast body of caselaw that has consistently found vaccination mandates to be constitutional and in the interest of public health. 

“While acknowledging respect for religious beliefs, the legislative memoranda expressed the collective legislative view that public health concerns should prevail,” Hartman wrote.  

“The fact that the Legislature enacted the repeal without public hearings and debate does not suggest religious animus. The Legislature is entitled to rely on findings and recommendations of the CDC and other public health officials; it was not required to hold factfinding hearings and debates about the science and medicine of vaccinations and the impacts on those with sincerely held religious beliefs before enacting the repeal.”  

Challenges to New York’s vaccination crackdown have largely seen sweeping defeats in courts across the state this year. Hartman also pointed out that California, Maine, West Virginia and Mississippi have all eliminated all personal belief and religious exemptions to vaccinations. 

The plaintiffs said there were less restrictive means of protecting the public health, such as by removing unvaccinated kids from school during outbreaks. Hartman leaned on the science to shoot down this suggestion. 

“Because an infected person may be asymptomatic while still being contagious, waiting for an outbreak to manifest places exposed, unvaccinated persons at risk of serious illness or death,” the 33-page opinion states. The New York state Legislature apparently concluded, and Hartman agreed, that so-called reactive measures to outbreaks simply aren’t as effective as vaccines.

Hartman refused to give the plaintiffs a preliminary injunction on Aug. 26, shortly before the start of school. They immediately appealed and lost, as state officials pressed on to dismiss the suit.

A secretary for the judge mailed last week’s order to the parties on Dec. 3.

Sussman did not immediately return a request for comment Monday but wrote on his public Facebook page that he expects to appeal. 

“I believe the decision is erroneous in critical regards and that she should have denied the motion and provided us the opportunity to further develop a record establishing the profound religious hostility which underlay this legislative action and other arguments we advanced,” he wrote. 

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