Madison Ruppert, Contributing Writer
The Vermont Senate recently passed a bill that is now on its way to the state House, which, if signed into law, would end the ability for parents to avoid getting their children vaccinated based on philosophical grounds.
This means that children will not be able to go to school if their parents refuse the vaccines, as they can no longer be exempt from the requirement based on parents’ philosophical opposition.
No matter how you feel about vaccines, I hope that you recognize and respect the right of individuals to make the ultimate decision when it comes to their own health and the health of their children; it is a right which is becoming increasingly stripped away from the people of the United States.
In a police state like the United States where you can be held indefinitely without charge or trial or deemed a possible terrorist for just about everything, this might seem like a relatively small issue to some. I do not think that the right to choose what goes into our bodies and the bodies of our children is at all a small matter, as it can only lead to more government intervention in our lives which is the last thing the American people need.
While a religious exemption would supposedly remain in place, this does not mean much given that both senators and Vermont Health Department officials have agreed that there are no standards in Vermont law which define religious belief.
One would assume that Christian Scientists would be exempt from this law due to their well-known beliefs, but could an anti-vaccine campaigner claim that they have a religious belief which prevents them from allowing their children to be vaccinated under this law? That much is unclear at this point.
Some think that no such explicit definition should be in law at all such as the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, Mathew Staver.
Liberty Counsel is an international non-profit organization which focuses on litigation and policy promotion aimed at advancing religious freedom, and according to their website, “the sanctity of life, and the family” with offices in multiple states and Israel.
“It can be a slippery slope to try to determine whether a person’s religious belief is valid or not,” Staver said.
“It puts the courts or the government in the role of deciding what is considered orthodox or not orthodox, approved or not approved, as it relates to religious belief,” he added, according to the Associated Press.
I think his point is quite strong, as government has absolutely no right to meddle in the private religious lives of Americans, especially the ability to say, “This religious belief is okay and this one is not.”
“Nothing would stop you if you wanted to exempt your children on religious grounds,” she claimed.
However, if someone does not have a “religious” objection and instead one based on health concerns, they might have to lie in filling out such a form.
Even drawing a line between what a religious vs. philosophical objection really is would be difficult. Do you have to meet regularly and have rituals in order for it to transform from a mere philosophical position to a religious belief?
This bill seems to be placing religious beliefs on a different playing field than other positions which are not based on religious dogma. I find this intellectual position repugnant, as I do not see any difference between the beliefs of, say, a nihilist and a Catholic in terms of the right of the individual to live their life according to such beliefs.
If a philosophy is opposed to vaccinations, individuals who identify with it should have every right that someone with a religious objection would have. It seems almost absurd that this is even something that needs to be said.
Thankfully, one senator, Philip Baruth, agreed with me in voting for the measure. Baruth, a Democrat, said that he objected to treating philosophical objections any differently than religious ones.
Baruth stated he was “troubled though, that we would remove philosophical conviction as something that would be allowed to those who don’t profess an organized religion. It seems to me we’re moving down a path where we’re creating … a set of rights for people of professed, organized religion, and taking them away from people who have deeply held convictions but who do not in fact worship this or that higher being.”
Baruth’s point is, in my opinion, very important and indeed it is quite troubling that the law would treat a philosophical position any different from a religious one.
Senator Kevil Mullin, a Republican and chief sponsor of the Senate bill in Vermont, said that if they tried to remove both the religious exemption and the philosophical exemption it would most likely be challenged in court and struck down.
Mullin said that he thinks many of the people who have taken the philosophical exemption in the past will not request a religious one if this becomes law.
“In other states, immunization rates have gone up when they did away with the philosophical exemption,” he said.
It is impossible to accurately say why this is; it could be due to those who took a philosophical exemption not wanting to lie in requesting a religious one, not knowing that they could still get their child exempted at all or potentially anything at all.
Currently, 20 states in America allow a philosophical exemption from immunization requirements and every state except Mississippi and West Virginia allow a religious exemption.
The state Health Department uses federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations to construct their list of required and recommended vaccines for children to enter public schools or even licensed child care facilities.
Just to enter kindergarten, children are required to receive three doses of hepatitis B vaccine, four doses of the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis vaccine, three doses of polio vaccine, three of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and one chicken pox vaccine as well.
When the Vermont Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee met to take testimony on the legislation, a large group of parents attended and raised many concerns about the move to end the philosophical exemption. Some of the parents brought up the potential adverse reactions, sometimes fatal ones, which occur in a small percentage of those who receive the vaccines.
Yet the state Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen and others testified that the scientific evidence of the benefits of vaccines outweighed the potentially fatal risks.
Mullin utilized some rhetoric which, in my opinion, is deplorably manipulative in pushing for the legislation.
“Many of us may not be in this chamber today if our parents and grandparents, great-grandparents had taken such a lenient approach to vaccinations and refused to be vaccinated for diseases like smallpox, polio and tuberculosis,” Mullins said.
“We’re going to protect our kids in our public schools and early childhood facilities so they are not exposed to dangerous disease and illness,” Mullins said in an attempt to tug on the heart strings of legislators and leverage fear to his advantage.
It remains to be seen if this will pass through the House and if more states will continue to eradicate the rights of parents to make the ultimate call on their child’s health, and if there will be a continued lopsided treatment of philosophical values and religious ones.
Like I said, regardless of if you think vaccines are a godsend or a health hazard, this is the United States where we are supposed to respect the individual’s right to choose, and I would like to preserve that right in every possible aspect of our lives.
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