Parents challenge California law eliminating religious exemptions for vaccine mandates

A medical assistant injects a vaccine in a file photo.
A medical assistant injects a vaccine in a file photo. | Reuters/Michael Buholzer

Four mothers are challenging a California law that eliminated religious exemptions for vaccination requirements, citing concerns about the use of research on aborted fetal cells in developing many required childhood vaccines.  

In a lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Southern California, Sara Royce, Sarah Clark, Tiffany Brown and Kristi Caraway are asking a federal judge to declare Senate Bill 277, passed in 2015, unconstitutional. 

As explained in the complaint, only medical exemptions, enrollment in an individualized education program or homelessness will enable a child to attend private or public school in the state without obtaining the vaccines.

The nonprofit law firm Advocates For Faith and Freedom represents the plaintiffs, which names California's Democrat Attorney General Rob Bonta as the defendant. 

"Plaintiffs have religious beliefs that forbid them from vaccinating their children, and their decision to adhere to their religious convictions has required significant sacrifices," the complaint stated. "California's compulsory vaccination law requires all students to receive numerous vaccines to enter public or private school."

Royce, a mother of one school-aged child and two others, believes that "vaccinating her children would cause her and her family to be complicit in abortion" because "many of the required childhood vaccines were derived from aborted fetal cells."

Brown, a mother of three school-aged children, and Caraway, who is raising 10 children, have similar beliefs. Brown reportedly witnessed her children acquire vaccine-related injuries. 

While three of Caraway's eldest children have taken vaccines, one of them developed injuries after receiving two of the vaccines, and he now has a medical exemption. 

Clark thinks the vaccines "violate the Bible because they are a foreign substance and are harmful to the body." Both Brown and Clark have had to homeschool their children due to the absence of a religious exemption to the vaccination requirements, while Caraway's children are "homeschooled through a charter program." 

The lawsuit contends that SB 277 violates the plaintiffs' rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, insisting that "Plaintiffs' children are unable to enjoy the benefits of a public and private education that their secular peers enjoy because of California's compulsory vaccination requirements." It also laments that "California allows immigrant and homeless children to attend public and private schools without proof of vaccination."

"People of faith should never be discriminated against through legislation," said Advocates For Faith and Freedom Vice President and Legal Counsel Maria Gondeiro in a statement. "We are standing up for parents of all faith backgrounds who want access to a quality education and medical autonomy over their children."

SB 277 was approved by then-Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, after passing the Democrat-controlled state legislature, with the Assembly voting 46-31 and the Senate voting 24-14. The votes came down largely along party lines.

In pro-life circles, there has been debate over whether to get vaccinated against COVID-19 since the main vaccines available were developed through research that included aborted fetal cells. 

In December 2020, the Roman Catholic Church's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith released a statement saying that it was "morally acceptable" for Catholics to take the vaccine despite the abortion link.

"It is morally acceptable to receive Covid-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production process," stated the Vatican at the time. "In the absence of other means to stop or even prevent the epidemic, the common good may recommend vaccination, especially to protect the weakest and most exposed." 

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at:

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