State AGs support anti-vax Amish

Photo: Steven Cornfield, Unsplash. Photo: Steven Cornfield, Unsplash.

Attorneys general from at least 20 states have filed amicus briefs in support of Amish schools’ religious freedom in rural New York. The state decided to no longer allow religious exemptions to school vaccination requirements in 2019 following a measles outbreak tied to an Orthodox Jewish school.

Joseph Miller, Ezra Wengerd and Jonas Smucker filed a lawsuit against New York’s commissioners of health and education claiming requirements for measles, polio, chicken pox and whooping cough vaccinations violated their religious freedom. The state’s health department imposed penalties of $2,000 per violation, totaling $52,000 against Dygert Road School, $46,000 against Pleasant View School and $20,000 against Shady Lane School.

A similar lawsuit was filed by Jonas Stotlzfus in Seneca County Court in 2019.

U.S. District Court Chief Judge Elizabeth A. Wolford dismissed the lawsuit on March 11. The men have taken their case to the U.S. Court of Appeals, Second Circuit.

Wengerd claims the Amish commitment to living separately from the modern world includes religious objection to vaccines.

“Our almighty God wants us to fully put our faith and trust in Him. Which is in conflict to put our trust in vaccines,” he says in the Amish appeal. “We are also commanded to not be conformed to this world, Romans 12:1-2. If we honestly obey this, then it will affect everything we do, yes even in the way we try to remain healthy. Also since some of the vaccines are based on fetal or aborted cell lines, we believe it would be an abomination to our Creator to inject such into our bodies.”

The Amish schools also cited Wisconsin v. Yoder, the 1972 Supreme Court decision exempting Amish from compulsory education past eighth grade.

In her ruling in the lower U.S. District Court, N.Y. Western District, Wolford noted the 2019 measles outbreak resulted from one infected child with a religious exemption creating 44 additional cases of measles, 26 of which were in fellow students with religious exemptions. Data showed the number of religious exemptions in nonpublic schools had tripled or quadrupled in some communities in recent years, potentially impacting “herd immunity” in those communities.

As of late May, states supporting the schools’ religious freedom claims included Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia. States that have stopped granting religious exemptions to such vaccinations include California, Connecticut, Maine and New York.

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