Saturday, February 25, 2017

Handling of Vaccination Exemption Request Did Not Violate Religious Rights

In Nikolao v. Lyon, (ED MI, Feb. 23, 2017), a Michigan federal district court dismissed free exercise and establishment clause challenges to the manner in which the Wayne County, Michigan Health Department handled a mother's request for an exemption for her children from the public school vaccination requirement.  Michigan law permits an exemption on the basis of a parent's religious convictions or alternatively on the basis other objections to  immunization. A 2014 Administrative Rule added the requirement that before an exemption will be granted, the parent must receive education  from the local health department on the risks of not receiving vaccinations.  The health department has prepared materials for its employees to use in attempting to persuade parents to allow vaccination, including materials to counter religious objections.

Plaintiff claims that if she wanted a religious waiver, she was required to explain her religious beliefs and discuss them with a health department nurse.  When she refused, she was granted an exemption on the non-religious ground that "mom wants child to have natural immunity."  Plaintiff contended that this deprived her of her religious and moral responsibility to object on account of her religion. Rejecting plaintiff's free exercise claim, the court said:
At most what Plaintiff alleges is that she was exposed to “coercion” to violate her beliefs regarding immunization for her children and “filled with lies about her faith from health department employees.” Plaintiff, however, did not yield to the nurses’ alleged pressure or lies and agree to immunize her children. She left the health department with the required and completed immunization waiver forms.