Tuesday, December 10, 2019
A lawsuit challenging New York's ban on religious exemptions from vaccinations was dismissed Friday.
The lawsuit was initially filed in July on behalf of more than 50 families whose children had religious exemptions from vaccinations, before the legislature banned the provision in June. The families lost their case in August, but filed an appeal soon after, which was ultimately dismissed by Acting Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman.
"Vaccines ensure the health and safety of our children, our families, and our communities," Attorney General Letitia James said in a statement. "This law will help protect New Yorkers from experiencing any additional public health crises, which is why we vigorously defended it."
The law was passed amid a measles outbreak in New York, largely concentrated in New York City's Hasidic Jewish communities. From October 2018, when the outbreak started, to November of this year, New York City had nearly 650 measles cases, and areas outside of the city had 426, according to the state Department of Health. Influenza also has been on the rise in recent years, peaking at more than 1,800 cases across the state in February 2018.
Michael Sussman, the attorney representing the families in the suit, has argued that the legislature's repeal was a violation of the constitutional freedom of religion. In her initial decision, Hartman agreed that the repeal would create a difficult situation for religious families, but refuted that they solely were being persecuted.
"While many do hold genuine and sincere religious beliefs, it cannot be denied that there are individuals who have attempted to assert religious exemptions when they, in actuality, disagree with the prevailing scientific and medical consensus that vaccines are safe for their children and are a highly effective way to protect public health," she wrote.
Sussman called Hartman's decision erroneous in a Facebook post Monday.
"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," Sussman wrote.
He added that he expects to appeal Hartman's decision a second time.
Hartman's dismissal of the case came the day after anti-vaccination protesters took to Warren Street in front of the office of Assemblywoman Didi Barrett, D-106. The more-than 20 protesters came from Philmont, Livingston, Ghent and other Columbia County municipalities to urge Barrett to vote against an array of new proposed legislations that would tighten vaccination requirements for children.
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