Supreme Court Rejects Parents’ Appeal for Religious Exemptions to COVID Vaccine Mandate

The high court rejected an appeal from parents who challenged New York’s decision to remove religious exemptions to the COVID vaccine mandate for schools.

On Monday, U.S. Supreme Court released an order announcing their decision not to hear arguments in the case F.F., as Parent of Y.F. v. New York, which involves a lawsuit challenging a 2019 law that repealed religious exemptions for vaccines. The rejection of the appeal enables a decision from a lower court to be upheld. This decision concluded that the parents’ argument lacked merit.

Back in 2019, New York’s former Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a measure that removed religious exemptions for vaccines among school children. The law forbids children from attending school or day care in New York if they did not have certification from a healthcare provider that the student had completed his or her mandated vaccinations, the Christian Post reported. Cuomo signed the bill amidst a measles outbreak that affected dozens of states across the country.

While the measure allowed medical exemptions, it no longer allowed exemptions for children whose parents or guardians hold genuine religious beliefs and do not permit their children to get vaccinated. Cuomo said when he signed the bill, “The science is crystal clear: Vaccines are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe.”

The former Democratic governor added, “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.”

In response to Cuomo’s passing of the law that removed religious exemptions to the requirement of vaccines for school children, a group of families who had various religious objections to vaccinations filed a lawsuit against New York on behalf of their children, who were minors. The parents argued that the policy forced them to violate their religious beliefs or homeschool their children.

The parents alleged that legislators in New York had “publicly mocked and ridiculed” citizens who sought religious exemptions for their children and noted that the legislature “left intact a medical exemption.” They claimed that the law now forces them to make “the Hobson’s choice of violating their sincerely-held religious beliefs or being denied the right to attend any manner of in-person schooling.”

In August 2019, acting Albany County Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman refused to provide the families with a preliminary injunction, concluding that protecting children through vaccination against communicable diseases was “unquestionably a compelling state interest.”

In March 2021, the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of New York’s Third Department upheld this same decision, arguing that the repeal of the religious exemptions to mandatory vaccines was motivated by concern for public health and was not about “active hostility towards religion.”

Justice Stanley Pritzker wrote the opinion and argued that the religious exemption formerly benefitted a covered class and its elimination now subjected those in the previously covered class to vaccine mandates that are also applicable to the public.

Reporting from Christianity Daily.