Mississippi must grant religious exemption for kids' school vaccinations: court

Girl receiving a vaccine for COVID-19
Girl receiving a vaccine for COVID-19 | Getty Images

A judge has ordered Mississippi to allow parents who oppose vaccines for religious reasons to be given an official exemption from being required to vaccinate their children in order to send them to public or private schools in the state.

Last September, a group of parents who were religiously opposed to vaccines filed a lawsuit over the state's requirement that all students be vaccinated before the school year. 

United States District Judge Halil Suleyman Ozerden issued a memorandum opinion and order on Tuesday, granting a preliminary injunction in favor of the parents, and requiring Mississippi to create a religious exemption for students who opt to not get vaccinated.

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Ozerden took issue over how Mississippi’s Compulsory Vaccination Law “allows for medical exemptions” for school vaccination “but affords no exemption for religious beliefs,” ordering the state government to “develop a procedure for any state resident who wishes to request a religious exemption” by July 15.

“Thereafter, while the injunction remains in effect, a person may seek a religious exemption from the compulsory vaccine law by requesting such exemption pursuant to the process developed by the Mississippi State Department of Health,” wrote Ozerden.

The Informed Consent Action Network, an organization known for promoting anti-vaccination views, supported the litigation against Mississippi and celebrated the ruling.

“ICAN could not be more proud to support this lawsuit that secured this incredible win for freedom,” said ICAN in a statement released Monday. “It is yet another step in its ongoing work to restore the right of every parent in this country to have his or her convictions respected and not trampled by the government.”

Before the decision, Mississippi was one of six states that lacked a religious or conscience-based exemption to school vaccination requirements, the others being California, Connecticut, Maine, New York and West Virginia.

Mississippi previously had a religious exemption for childhood vaccinations, according to The Associated Press, but it was struck down in 1979 by a state court, with lawmakers rejecting earlier proposals to revive it.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a legal challenge to New York’s repealing of religious exemptions to school vaccine mandates, letting a lower court ruling in favor of the repeal to remain in effect.

New York repealed the religious exemption to school vaccination in 2019 in response to a Measles outbreak in multiple states, with then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo signing the bill into law.

"The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe," Cuomo said in a statement shortly after signing the bill. "While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health. And by signing this measure into law, we will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks."

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