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Atheists Decry Federal Judge’s Outrageous Decision to Mandate Religious Exemptions for School Vaccination

Jackson, MS—This week, Judge Halil Suleyman “Sul” Ozerden of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi legislated from the bench, creating a religious exemption from Mississippi’s long standing requirement that children receive certain routine vaccines in order to attend public schools.

“States like Mississippi that do not allow a religious exemption to school vaccination laws are among those with the highest rates of vaccination in the country,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists. “Judge Ozerden has put children at risk in the state of Mississippi by mandating deference to dangerous religious beliefs.”

In Tandon v. Newsom, South Bay Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, and Fulton v. City of Philadelphia, the Supreme Court’s conservative Justices carved out new religious exemptions in the law, creating a “most-favored nation” rule for religion. According to this principle, whenever any exemption whatsoever is made in a law or policy, that exemption must also be extended to religion. Similarly, in the Mississippi case, Judge Ozerden ruled that because of the existence of a medical exemption, a religious exemption must also exist.

“This Mississippi case is a stunning example of where the Supreme Court’s recent vague and unworkable rulings regarding religious exemptions have taken us,” added Gill. “It’s absurd to think that the mere lack of a religious exemption violates the rights of religious people. That’s what the plaintiffs successfully argued, and it will lead to abuse and unfairness in other areas of the law.”

Mississippi, California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and West Virginia are the six states that, up until this week, have not offered a religious exemption from vaccine mandates. As a result of this and similar rulings, those protections are under threat.

“In order to have a functional society, states must be able to set rules that apply to everyone, regardless of whether or not they are religious,” said Nick Fish, President of American Atheists. “Religious extremist rulings endanger public school vaccine requirements in states throughout the country, including in progressive states like California and New York. Children will be at risk for disease like never before—and it’s the fault of the Supreme Court and activist judges.”

Image by James Case under CC BY 2.0