The U.S. Supreme Court will not hear a challenge to New York state's requirement that all children be vaccinated before they can attend public school, upholding an appeals court ruling that said the policy does not violate students' constitutional right of religious freedom.
The appeals court had also upheld a federal judge's ruling that students exempted from the immunization policy for religious reasons could still be barred from school during an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.
"I applaud the Supreme Court for letting stand the Second Circuit's decision recognizing the validity of laws in both New York State and New York City requiring vaccinations for schoolchildren," state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement. "Protecting children from debilitating communicable diseases should be a top priority."
The attorney for three New York City families who challenged the mandate indicated the issue was not going away.
"I'm disappointed but I think there's more coming," attorney Patricia Finn said.
She pointed to a preliminary injunction issued by a federal judge in White Plains late last month allowing a Clarkstown parent the right to exempt a boy from vaccines containing animal byproducts or fetal tissues on religious grounds.
The issue also is under discussion in California, where there are efforts to repeal a new law that did away with the state's personal belief exemption for immunizations, and in Vermont, which earlier this year removed a philosophical exemption but kept a religious exemption in place.
"Throughout the country... people are organizing and challenging these statutes," Finn said by phone. "I don't know why the (Supreme) Court didn't take it. There's far more coming."
In the New York case, two students who were not vaccinated on religious grounds were temporarily barred from going to school after a fellow student was diagnosed with chicken pox. The family of the third student challenged the statute after a judge denied her mother's request for a vaccine exemption, finding that the mother's concerns were primarily health-related and not based in religion.
"The current law serves the best interest of the public health and protects city school children, their families and the broader community in which we all live," the New York City Law Department, which represented the school district, said in a statement.
The parents did not immediately return telephone messages seeking comment Monday.