Friday, July 08, 2016

Suit Challenges Michigan's Attempt To Dissuade Assertion of Religious Objection To Immunizations

In Michigan yesterday, the mother of four children filed a federal lawsuit challenging Michigan's rules regarding exemption from the state's immunization requirements for school children.  Mich. Comp. Laws § 333.9215 allows parents to obtain an exemption from the requirements by presenting school officials a written statement "to the effect that the requirements ... cannot be met because of religious convictions or other objection to immunization." The state Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2014 adopted a rule (R 325.176(12)) requiring that any request for a non-medical exemption be certified by the local health department after giving the parents warning of the risks of their child not receiving vaccines.

The complaint (full text) in Nikolao v. Lyon, (ED MI, filed 7/7/2016), alleges that HHS has furnished local employees with a "Religious Waiver Note" providing them guidance on how to convince those with religious objections to nevertheless allow their children to be immunized. Plaintiff, a Catholic, contends that the Note contains misrepresentations about Catholic beliefs as to vaccination. She alleges further that when she went to the Wayne County health department to obtain certification of her religious objections, employees insisted that she needed to declare what religion she practices, explain her religious beliefs, and engage in a back and forth discussion with the ... nurse concerning her religious objection...." The complaint goes on:
54. Defendants attempted to use Mrs. Nikolao’s beliefs and adherence to Papal authority to coerce her into vaccinating her children by telling her lies about the Catholic faith and untrue Papal statements.
55. In the end ... Defendants refused to give Mrs. Nikolao a religious exemption, requiring her to mask her religious beliefs in the shroud of an “other” objection.
56. This fa├žade on its own violated Mrs. Nikolao’s religion since, as a Catholic, she has a “grave responsibility . . . to make a conscientious objection with regard to those [vaccines] which have moral problems.”
Plaintiff claims that this violated her free exercise rights under the state and federal constitutions, the Establishment Clause and Michigan statutory law.  The Thomas More Law Center issued a press release announcing the filing of the lawsuit.