(The Center Square) — Critics of a Connecticut law banning religious exemptions from school vaccination requirements have lost several rounds in federal court but are planning to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.
A lawsuit, filed by We the Patriots USA Inc. on behalf of parents whose children attend a school at Milford Christian Church, argued that Connecticut violated their First Amendment rights by repealing the state’s long-held religious exemptions to childhood vaccines.
In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that rejected a lawsuit challenging the repeal of religious exemptions.
The state Attorney General’s office is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, but the plaintiffs have filed a motion to stay the case while petitioning the high court to take up the legal challenge.
In a court filing, the plantiffs’ attorney Cameron Atkinson said they are “actively preparing” a petition for a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court asking justices to overturn the Second Circuit’s decision.
“The plaintiffs’ petition for a writ of certiorari will raise serious questions for which there is a reasonable probability that the Supreme Court will grant certiorari to consider,” he wrote.
Atkinson said the plaintiffs’ plan to ask the high court to “decide whether medical exemptions and legacy religious exemptions, individually and collectively, undermine a state’s interest in a school vaccination mandate in the same manner that future religious exemptions would.”
The 2021 law eliminated religious exemptions for students required to receive certain immunizations before enrolling in school. The state still allows medical exemptions for vaccines, and kindergarten through 12th grade students who had already received such exemptions were “grandfathered” under the law.
That left preschool and other early education schools without similar accommodations for religious exemptions, already granted, which the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued was unfair.
The three-panel appellate court’s majority ruled that the Connecticut law contained “no trace” of hostility toward religious believers and did not violate objectors’ constitutional rights to due process and the free exercise of religion.
But in a dissenting opinion, Judge Joseph Bianco argued that Connecticut “failed to meet its burden” of proving that the repeal of the religious exemption was necessary to protect public health.
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong called the decision a “resounding affirmation of the constitutionality and legality of Connecticut’s vaccine requirements.”
At least other states — California, Maine, Mississippi, New York and West Virginia — have also done away with religious exemptions.