Court rules failure to vaccinate children not “free exercise of religion”
The US District Court in Ohio has ruled that a parent’s refusal to vaccinate her children against diseases is not “free exercise” of religion, and amounts to neglect.
In April 2010, the Tuscarawas County Jobs and Family Services filed a complaint in Juvenile Court against parents Charity and Brock Schenker, and took custody of the Schenker children. They became involved after a domestic violence matter between Mr. and Mrs. Schenker.
At that time, the children were determined to be “neglected and dependent”. TCJFS worked out case plans for the parents, including required psychiatric evaluations, drug testing, and supervised visitation.
When asked about the children’s immunizations, Mrs. Schenker claimed she had religious objections to immunizations. The court informed her that the immunizations would be ordered.
Mrs. Schenker (now divorced) was recommended to undergo therapy for adjustment disorder, histrionic personality disorder, and narcissistic personality features. The evaluating psychiatrist noted that she would have concerns about reuniting Schenker and her children if therapy was not undertaken. Following some additional drama, Schenker was subjected to a random drug test at a later hearing and tested positive for marijuana use. Her visitations were terminated, and the county filed a motion for permanent custody in August 2011.
The county laid out as evidence a number of instances in which Schenker did not comply with orders, refused home inspections, and more. But Schenker sued with eight claims, including conspiracy claims and, most significantly, claims that her First Amendment right to free expression of religion was violated.
The District Court found that “the mere assertion of a religious belief . . . does not automatically trigger First Amendment protections,” and that “it has long been recognized that local authorities may constitutionally mandate vaccinations.” The latter cited the 1905 case of Jacobson v. Massachusetts, which set forth that “real liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own . . . regardless of the injury that may be done to others.”
The District Court also cited 1944′s Prince vs. Massachusetts, which found that “The right to practice religion freely does not include parental liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease.” (Emphasis added.)
Also, while some states have granted religious exemptions, it is not required; supported in Sherr vs. Northport-East Northport Union Free School District, 1987.
The District Court dismissed Schenker’s claims in full, including the First Amendment claim, and permanent custody has been granted to the county.
Note that the permanent custody is not due entirely to the vaccination issue, but it was a contributing factor.
Read the full court decision HERE. Thanks to Religion Clause.