New Jersey’s Senate abandoned efforts to pass a bill Monday that would end religious exemptions to vaccine requirements for some 14,000 students enrolled in public or private schools across the state after hundreds of protesters showed up at the statehouse.
“They can cheer all they want. We’re not walking away from it,” Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney insisted after protesters cheered when the Senate adjourned without voting on the bill Monday, according to The New York Times.
“It’s just remarkable how people are looking at this and not trusting the science on it at all. They’re trusting the internet,” he added.
Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Middlesex, was one vote short of passing the bill (A3818), which would allow only children with verified medical conditions to be exempt from vaccine laws, NJ.com reported. Others like Sen. Joseph Lagana, D-Bergen, said he could not vote yes because it is “just too personal for me.”
The Democrat-led Assembly passed the bill 45-25, with six abstentions, NBC10 reported, but the Democrat-controlled Senate had to abandon their scheduled vote due to loud chants from opponents who shouted “We do not consent,'' and “In God we trust.''
If the bill becomes law, New Jersey would join just a few other states such as New York and California, to remove religious exemptions for vaccines, NBC10 said. Currently, about 45 states and the District of Columbia allow for religious exemptions for vaccines.
The push to remove religious exemptions for vaccines in New Jersey emerged in 2019 after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the state reported its greatest number of measles cases since 1992.
Opponents of the bill argue that it infringes on their rights as parents to decide what's best for their children.
“I know these kids pose no threat,” Jacqueline Gravely, a second-grade teacher from Berkeley Township, New Jersey, told NBC10. “These are healthy kids with educated parents. We’re not talking about 1912 or a third-world country.”
America’s main ultra-Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization, Agudath Israel of America, is among the groups opposing the bill, according to the New York Times.
Avi Schnall, the New Jersey director of Agudath Israel of America, told the publication that while most Orthodox Jews vaccinate their children, many rabbinical authorities “are very concerned” about the bill because it mandates vaccines even in those cases where a rabbi may decide they are unwarranted.
“There is a religious element to vaccines,” he told the Times. “And for the state to eliminate the religious exemption, it sets a precedent, it begins a slippery slope. And it’s not a good place for the state to be telling people, ‘Well, we don’t consider this to be religious, so we are taking it away.’”
Supporters argue that the bill is about keeping children safe.
“There is no exemption for drunk driving or wearing a seat belt, there should not be an exemption from a patently safe vaccine that, if not taken, puts the health and well-being of our children at risk,'' Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg told NBC10.