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Wyoming high court hears dispute over vaccinations

By The Associated Press

09.22.00

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CHEYENNE, Wyo. — The state Supreme Court heard opinions on whether parents should have to show evidence of their faith to obtain vaccination waivers for their children on religious grounds.

The case before the court yesterday involves hepatitis B vaccinations. State health officials denied some waivers because they believed parents were being insincere about their religious beliefs.

An attorney for the parents said the denial violated their First and 14th Amendment rights and that those rights supersede any requirement to immunize no matter how serious the disease.

"It is a compelling interest of the citizen to make his or her own health decisions. It is a compelling interest of the parent to make parenting decisions," Robert Moxley said.

Furthermore, he said, state law does not require children to be vaccinated for hepatitis B, which is transmitted through bodily fluids.

However, Assistant Attorney General Marcie Hoff said state law does allow the Health Department to establish immunization policy.

"I believe that you can look at it and say this is not a religious issue," she said. "This is a moral concern or a safety concern."

Moxley said police power enables authorities to keep children home from school during an epidemic, but authorities do not have the power to require vaccinations or to keep home children who are not immunized.

In addition to the religious and freedom of speech issues, he cited parents' right not to submit their children to illnesses that occasionally result from vaccinations.

When justices asked him what would happen if a child exempted on religious grounds or for any other reason is the one carrying a disease, Moxley said there should be no problem if all the other children are immunized.

Hoff pointed out that the risk of an epidemic increases in proportion to the number of people who are not immunized.

The Health Department last year held and then temporarily suspended hearings on whether parents seeking immunization waivers on religious grounds were being truthful.

The Supreme Court will issue a decision later. A similar case is pending before U.S. District Judge William Downes, who has said he wants to stay apprised of the state Supreme Court case.

In the federal case, four couples are suing state Health Officer Dr. Shannon Harrison, among others, for refusing to exempt their children.

Related

Mother claims inoculations for child violate her religious beliefs
New York school officials contend that Kelly Turner doesn't belong to legitimate religion, cannot use district's religious exemption.  09.06.00

Parents defend religious-based exemptions for children's immunizations
CASPER, Wyo. — A federal lawsuit over exemptions for children's vaccinations has evolved into a conflict over constitutional rights of religious expression and privacy, says the attorney for a group of Wyoming parents.  05.04.00

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