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Mother claims inoculations for child violate her religious beliefs

By The Associated Press

09.06.00

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SYRACUSE, N.Y. — A federal judge will decide whether a 5-year-old girl can claim a religious exemption and enter kindergarten without required immunizations.

Kelly Turner filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to prevent the Liverpool School District from denying her daughter Victoria's entrance into kindergarten.

Turner, a member of the Congregation of Universal Wisdom, claims that medications are against her religious beliefs and that the district is violating her constitutional rights to religious freedom. The state requires inoculations for schoolchildren, but allows an exemption when there's a sincere religious belief against them.

U.S. District Judge Frederick Scullin signed an order last week allowing Victoria to go to school at least until the case is argued in court Sept. 11. Classes began yesterday.

Liverpool School District officials contend that Kelly Turner does not belong to a legitimate religion and cannot use the religious exemption.

"It is the district's opinion that your belief is based on science and/or philosophy, and not on religion," Liverpool Superintendent John Cataldo wrote in a letter to Turner.

Cataldo wrote that "the Congregation of Universal Wisdom is formed by a chiropractor, requires no real training for its ministers, its members do not have regular contact with the leaders, and there is no indication that it provides religious services for its members."

"For the district to pass judgment on the legitimacy of Kelly Turner's religion is very problematic," said Samuel Young, Turner's lawyer.

Young said the law is clear that when someone's beliefs "embrace concepts of a higher power and are the type that one would put ahead of one's own self interests, they are religious beliefs."

Turner said the Congregation of Universal Wisdom preaches that the injection of any medication or other man-made substance into the body would be a violation of the sanctity of the body.

"Man-made medicine claims to heal, and to put my faith in a man to heal me would be to turn from God and lose faith in God, and that's sacrilege," Turner told school district lawyers at a hearing in February. "Nothing is to be injected into our bodies. ... That can result in physical, spiritual, emotional illness or disease, or your natural balance will be off. Your openness to the receiving of God will be interfered with."

Turner says she has never given either of her two daughters any medications. The girls have been treated with the laying on of hands "several hundred times," she said.

Turner asked the district last year for permission to let her daughter attend school without being immunized. Cataldo denied the request and his decision was later upheld by the Liverpool school board.

Related

Wyoming high court hears dispute over vaccinations
Case centers on whether parents should have to show evidence of faith to obtain waivers for children.  09.22.00

Groups call on states to dump exemptions for faith-healing parents
Christian Scientists say spiritual healing is the cornerstone of their religion and is protected by the First Amendment.  06.12.98

Oregon weakens defenses for parents who rely on faith to heal their children
Faith-healing parents now subject to some forms of prosecution for not seeking medical treatment for their children.  08.24.99

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