UNITED STATES NEWS

Mississippi, under judge’s order, starts allowing religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations

Jul 14, 2023, 10:18 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi is starting the court-ordered process of letting people cite religious beliefs to seek exemptions from state-mandated vaccinations that children must receive before attending day care or school.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states and has high rates of health problems such as obesity and heart disease. But it has received praise from public health officials for years because it has some of the highest rates of childhood vaccination against diseases such as polio, measles and mumps.

In April, U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden ordered Mississippi to join most other states in allowing religious exemptions from childhood vaccinations.

His ruling came in a lawsuit filed last year by several parents who said their religious beliefs have led them to keep their children unvaccinated and out of Mississippi schools. The lawsuit, funded by the Texas-based Informed Consent Action Network, argued that Mississippi’s lack of a religious exemption for childhood vaccinations violates the U.S. Constitution.

Ozerden set a deadline of this Saturday for the state to comply with his order. The Mississippi State Department of Health website will publish information on that day about how people can seek the religious exemptions, according to court papers filed on behalf of Dr. Daniel Edney, the state health officer.

“To be clear, Dr. Edney does not endorse Plaintiffs’ views on vaccination or their arguments that the School Vaccination Law is unconstitutional,” wrote Michael J. Bentley, an attorney representing the health officer.

Bentley wrote that Edney also does not agree with state Attorney General Lynn Fitch’s position that the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a law enacted in 2014, provides a religious exemption to the school vaccination law, “though he respects her authority to opine on questions of Mississippi law.”

“In Dr. Edney’s view, the School Vaccination Law is constitutional as enacted by the Mississippi Legislature without a religious exemption,” Bentley wrote.

Mississippi already allowed people to apply for medical exemptions for a series of five vaccinations that are required for children to enroll in public or private school. The immunizations are against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; hepatitis; measles, mumps and rubella; and chickenpox. Mississippi does not require COVID-19 vaccinations.

Under Mississippi’s new religious exemption process, state health officials cannot question the sincerity of a person’s religious beliefs. The exemption must be granted if forms are properly filled out, Bentley wrote.

“The process is meant to respect the beliefs of parents who object to vaccinating their children on religious grounds, while also protecting the health of Mississippi’s 440,000 K-12 students and preserving the gains Mississippi has made in preventing cases of crippling and deadly diseases among school children,” Bentley wrote.

According to the lawsuit, some of the plaintiffs have been homeschooling their children, while others have family or work connections in Mississippi but live in other states that allow religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations.

The only states without religious or personal belief exemptions for school immunization requirements have been California, Connecticut, Maine, Mississippi, New York and West Virginia, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Mississippi once had a religious exemption for childhood vaccinations, but it was overturned in 1979 by a state court judge who ruled that vaccinated children have a constitutional right to be free from associating with their unvaccinated peers, the lawsuit said.

Over the past several years, Mississippi legislators have rejected proposals to allow religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations, with health officials saying more exemptions could lead to the spread of preventable diseases.

United States News

President Joe Biden gestures after speaking to graduating students at the Morehouse College commenc...

Associated Press

Biden tells Morehouse graduates that scenes in Gaza from the Israel-Hamas war break his heart, too

Joe Biden on Sunday offered his most direct recognition of U.S. students' anguish over the Israel-Hamas war.

25 minutes ago

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi suffered a “hard landing” on Sunday, May ...

Associated Press

Helicopter carrying Iran’s hard-line president apparently crashes in foggy, mountainous region

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, the country's foreign minister apparently crashed in mountainous Iran on Sunday.

5 hours ago

Associated Press

Child is among 3 dead after Amtrak train hits a pickup truck in upstate New York

NEW YORK (AP) — A child was among the three victims killed when a passenger train hit a pickup truck, officials said. The northbound Amtrak train hit a Dodge truck Friday evening in North Tonawanda, New York, a small town along the Niagara River between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, police said. The victims included a […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

11 hurt in mass shooting that marked a weekend of gun violence in Savannah, Georgia

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — An argument between two women led to a gunfight that left 11 people hurt in a busy tourist area of Savannah, Georgia, late Saturday, one of five weekend shootings in the city, two of which were fatal, authorities said. Two people were injured in separate shootings Friday. Two more shootings Saturday […]

7 hours ago

Associated Press

Power expected to be restored to most affected by deadly Houston storm

HOUSTON (AP) — Houston area residents affected by deadly storms last week that left at least seven dead were finally getting some good news as officials said they expected power to be restored by Sunday evening to a majority of the hundreds of thousands still in the dark and without air conditioning amid hot and […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally goes to space 60 years later on Bezos rocket

VAN HORN, Texas (AP) — America’s first Black astronaut candidate finally rocketed into space 60 years later, flying with Jeff Bezos’ rocket company on Sunday. Ed Dwight was an Air Force pilot when President John F. Kennedy championed him as a candidate for NASA’s early astronaut corps. But he wasn’t picked for the 1963 class. […]

9 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Mississippi, under judge’s order, starts allowing religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations