There is one issue of common sense and science where California, Mississippi, and West Virginia are in complete agreement—those three states allow no exemptions to vaccination for children attending public schools. But just those three. Forty-seven states allow parents to not vaccinate their children on religious grounds. Another 18 states allow students to not be vaccinated for “personal or philosophical” reasons, reasons that can be as vague as … anything, really. When a law includes a phrase allowing exemption on “moral, philosophical or other personal beliefs,” as does the law in Maine, or allows a parent to endanger a child on “conscientiously held beliefs” as does the law in Minnesota, it desperately undercuts the value of the law and endangers the lives of both children and adults.
Washington state is one of those states with laws that permit students to enter school with nothing more than a written statement that the parent “has either a philosophical or personal objection” to immunization. It’s an extraordinarily lax standard, one that has led to 10 percent of children entering school in the state without proper vaccination. And that lax standard is directly responsble—directly responsible—for a measles outbreak that has infected at least 56 people and threatens to grow much further. As the Washington Post reports, that growing outbreak threatens not just the children whose parents chose to make their lives sacrifice to nonsensical beliefs, but thousands in the surrounding community—from infants to the elderly.
Against that backdrop, legislators in the state have proposed tightening the requirements for exemption. A new bill wouldn’t eliminate exemptions, but would restrict them to religious reasons, eliminating the “personal and philosophical” way out. It’s not enough, but it’s something. And that something is enough to upset the murderous, child haters of the anti-vax movement.
As CBS reports, hundreds of hysterical anti-vaxxers showed up at the Washington state capitol this week to protest for the “right” to keep endangering lives for no good reason. They didn’t also complain that they’re not allowed to drive on the wrong side of the road, or fire guns through crowded hallways, or pee in everyone’s coffee—but they just as well might have.
The Washington State legislation is a good first step toward what should be done: Eliminate all “belief” exemptions everywhere.
When it comes to religious exemptions, exactly which religions is it that forbid vaccinations anyway? Is it Mormons? No. Hindus? No. Buddhists? No. Judaism? No. Catholics? No. Jehovah’s Witnesses? Not since 1930. Amish? Emphatically no. Muslims? No—in fact, Muslims have a special dispensation to use vaccines, even if they are made in ways that break dietary guidelines.
So who is it? It’s not even Christian Scientists. They may not believe in diseases, but they still allow members to get vaccines.
There is the Dutch Reformed Church, which is the big reason that the largest measles outbreak in recent history, with over 1,200 cases, hit the Netherlands in 2013. But the North American split from that church, the Reformed Church in America, doesn’t seem to have these strict objections.
The fact is that the religious exemptions provided by the states are just “personal and philosophical beliefs” under another name. In most states, applying for this exemption just means filling out a small form, one that doesn’t require any evidence that there’s a genuine religious rule which would be violated by vaccination.
Laws allowing religious exemptions to vaccination aren’t just dangerous nonsense, they’re dangerous nonsense and don’t even defend a genuine religious concern.
Note: For anyone who finds the term anti-vax objectionable, feel free to re-read this article using a different term.