Wednesday, November 08, 2017

6th Circuit Dismisses Challenge To Michigan Procedures For Vaccination Exemption

In Nikolao v. Lyon, (6th Cir., Nov. 7, 2017), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered dismissal of a challenge to Michigan's procedures for granting school children a religious exemption from vaccination requirements. In order to obtain an exemption, a parent is required to visit the local health department and explain the basis for the objection.  A health worker must certify that the parent has received education on the benefits of immunizations and the risks involved in not receiving them.  Also the state has published a series of "Waiver Notes" containing responses to parental objections, including religious objections.  The court held that plaintiff, a mother who asserted her Catholic religious beliefs as the basis for the request, lacked standing to raise a free exercise claim, saying in part:
While Nikolao has presented facts suggesting that she was exposed to religious information with which she did not agree, she has given no indication that the information coerced her into doing or not doing anything. Nikolao went to the WCDH to receive a vaccination exemption and left with one.
The court found that plaintiff did have standing to assert an Establishment Clause claim, but concluded that no Establishment Clause violation was shown, saying in part:
The Certification Rule only requires local health workers to have a conversation with objecting parents.... As part of that conversation, the state may offer its own take on a parent’s objections. But the Certification Rule does not allow state officials to withhold an exemption based on the legitimacy of those objections. Were that the case, the outcome here may very well be different....
Similarly, the Religious Waiver Note does not violate the Establishment Clause. The Note outlines a health department worker’s available responses to religious objections concerning vaccination. To be sure, this document contains information about specific religions.... But, again, the purpose of providing this information is secular.
[Thanks to Tom Rutledge for the lead.]