Vaccine mandates exist in Michigan, however the legislature provides for exemptions for medical, conscientious and religious convictions. There are many parents whose religious convictions prevent them from morally vaccinating their children with certain vaccines that are derived from aborted human fetal cell lines (ex. MMR and Varicella). For almost 40 years, parents who opt their child out of one or more vaccinations have provided their written objection to the child’s school official, a procedure outlined in state statute. In 2015, the state health department promulgated a regulation that in effect, usurped this state law. This regulation now requires a parent speak with a government health department worker and receive information on the benefits of vaccines and the risks of not receiving all mandated vaccines. What was sold as a minor inconvenience for parents, has turned into a possible violation of the constitutional and religious rights of citizens across the State of Michigan by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS).
Michigan for Vaccine Choice, and legislators across the state, have received hundreds of complaints about this regulation. Deeply concerned citizens have expressed that the session has little to do with education and more to do with the parent undergoing a line of questioning about their beliefs and medical choices for their children, particularly their religious beliefs and convictions, in order to exercise their statutory right to a vaccine exemption. Perhaps the most disturbing is the issue highlighted in the case brought against MDHHS by Tara Nicolau, R.N. and the Thomas More Law Center. Ms. Nicolau attended an ‘education’ session where she claims she was harassed by the health department nurse about her religious beliefs for over an hour. When she would not share the nature of her private, deeply held religious beliefs she was denied a religious waiver for her child.
Ms. Nicolau’s experience is not unique, and echoes the experience of Kim Boer, a parent who provided an account of her experience at the Kent County Health Department to State Representatives at a Joint Committee Hearing held on the issue in Lansing on September, 2015. Health department bureaucrats are requiring parents disclose what religion they practice, explain and justify their religious beliefs, and engage in back and forth discussion about their beliefs. Often parents are told aborted human fetal cells are not used in the production, or if they are, this is not a ‘valid’ religious objection to vaccination. There are even certain health departments telling parents religious exemptions are no longer available. Workers use an MDHHS religious guidance document that includes religious teachings that promote vaccination, and are instructing parents that their religious beliefs are wrong, and that they do not understand the teachings of their church. This measure appears to be an attempt to influence people away from their religious beliefs and coerce them into vaccinating their children.
UPDATE: This document was available on the MDHHS website until this case was filed (http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdch/020415_Waiver_Ed_Religious_480652_7.pdf), when it was abruptly removed.
View an archived copy.
Can a government agency provide religious education to the public, or prevent the free exercise of religion? “The government engaging in activities to challenge, demean, or dispute citizens’ firmly held religious views is a violation of the First Amendment and is no place for the health department or any government entity.” says Suzanne Waltman, president of Michigan for Vaccine Choice. “Fixation on immunization rates by the health department should not override basic rights in this state.” she says.
The problems with this regulation run deep, and it appears to violate existing state and federal laws. Many legislators agree, and in an effort to restore existing law, Tom Hooker (R-77), has introduced legislation (HB 5126 and 5127) to rescind the regulation. The case by the Thomas More Law Center may also serve to throw out this regulation by judicial review. One thing is clear, law-abiding Michiganders are not prepared to give up their rights for a false sense of security promised by MDHHS.
Contact: Connie Johnson
Michigan for Vaccine Choice is a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization dedicated to providing educational information on the subject of vaccinations and to protecting and supporting individual/parental rights to make vaccine decisions in Michigan.
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