- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 11, 2021

A religious liberty organization and a group of parents are challenging a new Connecticut law that requires children to be vaccinated to attend public or private schools despite religious objections or exemptions.

The parents, who are Catholic, Greek Orthodox and Muslim, say their children should be able to have religious exemptions from vaccinations in the state.

They cite potential ingredients in vaccines that run afoul of their faiths — like fetal parts and pork, which is used to form a gelatin in one of the coronavirus vaccines, according to the lawsuit.

“We feel it is clearly an attack on religious freedom,” said Brian Festa, an attorney and co-founder of We the Patriots USA, the organization leading the lawsuit.

They challenged the Connecticut law after it was enacted in April, arguing the legislation removed religious exemptions from the state’s required vaccines that had been on the books since 1959.

The COVID-19 vaccines are not on the list, but Mr. Festa said it appears lawmakers are laying the groundwork to add them in the future.

“They removed this, citing the COVID-19 pandemic, but COVID isn’t one of the vaccines required for school,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“This is definitely not about public health,” he added.

On April 28, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, signed the legislation removing religious exemptions for vaccinations for children attending school, day care centers or college.

Connecticut became the sixth state to do so, according to The Associated Press, which reported that West Virginia, Maine, Mississippi, California and New York also do not allow religious exemptions.

“When it comes to the safety of our children, we need to take an abundance of caution,” the governor said in a statement at the time. “This legislation is needed to protect our kids against serious illnesses that have been well-controlled for many decades, such as measles, tuberculosis, and whooping cough, but have reemerged.”

The law requires proof of vaccinations by the 2022 school year.

Students already with valid religious exemptions in the state will be grandfathered in, but new students entering school either from early child care or out of state must meet the requirement.

A medical exemption is still available.

The state has moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing an immunization survey showed the religious exemption has had a growing impact over the past several years on the vaccination rates in Connecticut.

“The percentage of incoming kindergarten students claiming religious exemptions increased almost every year from 2012 to 2020: from 1.4% during the 2012-13 school year to 2.3% by 2019-20, for a total increase of 0.9%,” the state’s court filing read.

“Proponents of the repeal in both chambers emphasized that the decreasing vaccination rates, as reflected in the Immunization Data, posed a public health risk; that many individual schools had already fallen below the 95% vaccination threshold recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (‘CDC’) for ‘herd immunity’; and that the repeal of all non-health exemptions was necessary to prevent vaccination rates from continuing to decline,” the filing added.

The case is pending before U.S. District Judge Janet Bond Arterton, a Clinton appointee.

Mr. Festa said they’ll take the case all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

But Robert Tuttle, a law professor at The George Washington University, said all challenges against vaccine mandates have failed.

“There’s nearly 100-year old precedent to support it, and the most recent [non-COVID-19] litigation — measles vaccines in [New York] — always went for the government,” he said. 

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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