Federal Court Upholds Connecticut Law Eliminating Religious Exemptions For Childhood Vaccines
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A Connecticut law eliminating religious exemptions for childhood vaccines is constitutional and legal, according to a federal appeals court.

In a Friday ruling, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit dismissed the claim that refusal to accept religious exemptions for vaccinations was unconstitutional.

“[I]t is not enough for a law to simply affect religious practice; the law or the process of its enactment must demonstrate ‘hostility’ to religion,” stated the court. “[E]xempting a student from the vaccination requirement because of a medical condition and exempting a student who declines to be vaccinated for religious reasons are not comparable in relation to the State’s interest.”

The court also said that the accommodations for religious objectors nullified arguments that the law was hostile to religion, citing a provision in the law allowing children already enrolled in K-12 to maintain their religious exemptions.

The ruling explained that the Connecticut legislature introduced the bill in 2021 to address a one percent rise in child religious exemptions during the preceding seven years. The court also noted that the proposed exemption elimination received overwhelming public opposition (95 percent), with the supportive minority representing various public health agencies and associations.

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong, a Democrat, stated in a press release on Friday that overriding religious freedom was necessary to prevent disease.

“Vaccines save lives — this is a fact beyond dispute. The legislature acted responsibly and well within its authority to protect the health of Connecticut families and stop the spread of preventable disease,” said Tong. “We will continue to vigorously defend our state’s strong and necessary public health laws.”

The Connecticut legislature banned religious exemptions for childhood vaccinations in 2021 through Connecticut Public Act No. 21-6. Under the law, families may not claim a religious exemption from immunization requirements for preK-12 schools. The law went into effect last September.


Two days after Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont signed the bill into law, two groups and three mothers sued to stop it: We the Patriots USA, CT Freedom Alliance, Constantina Lora, Miriam Hidalgo, and Asma Elidrissi.

The plaintiffs alleged that the elimination of the religious exemption violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment; a right to privacy and medical freedom implied within the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments; the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the liberty interest in childrearing implicit in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The lead plaintiff in the case challenging the law, We the Patriots USA, said they plan to appeal to the Supreme Court.

“[W]e respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the removal of the religious exemption in Connecticut does not infringe upon the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, or the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, among other things,” said the group. “We fully intend to seek review of this decision in the United States Supreme Court, to obtain equal justice for all children — not only in Connecticut, but in every state in the nation.”

Mississippi, California, New York, and Maine have similarly barred religious exemptions for vaccinations; West Virginia has never allowed religious exemptions for required K-12 immunizations.

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