Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God in Vain: Use and Abuse of Religious Exemptions from School Immunization Requirements
Dorit Rubinstein Reiss
Volume 65, Issue 6, 1551-1602
School immunization requirements are one way that states protect school age children against vaccine-preventable diseases. At present, forty-eight states allow parents to exempt their students from immunization requirements based on religious reasons, philosophical reasons, or either. This Article focuses on the religious exemption and makes three points. First, people lie to get a religious exemption. Second, U.S. jurisprudence makes preventing such abuse very hard. And third, because the religious exemption is so prone to abuse, we should remove it. The first part of the Article discusses the jurisprudence, and why our courts limit state officials’ ability to police abuse of the religious exemption. The Article then uses three sources to argue that religious exemptions are widely abused: survey data describing the reasons people do not vaccinate, the positions of established religions about vaccines, and posts from Facebook stating the poster lied to obtain a religious exemption. The Article concludes by discussing three potential solutions to the problem of widespread abuse of the religious exemption: tightening the scrutiny of requests for religious exemptions, limiting exemptions to medical exemptions only, and providing only a personal choice exemption. The Article is skeptical about whether tightening scrutiny is appropriate or constitutional, but sees the latter two options as offering a different balance of benefits and costs, though the author has a slight preference for a hard to obtain personal choice exemption.