A nurse practitioner prepares a vaccination.

A nurse practitioner prepares a vaccination. Credit: AP

A federal judge has thrown out a Great Neck couple's suit seeking to force the Great Neck school district to enroll their daughter in classes despite their refusal to have her vaccinated against a number of diseases.

The couple, Martina and Andreas Caviezel, had argued last year that it was against their religious beliefs to have their then 5-year-old daughter vaccinated, and state law and federal law allowed exceptions in such cases.

But in a series of rulings, U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt in Central Islip has said that their opposition to vaccination was not based on "a genuine and sincere religious objection" as would be required by law.

The latest ruling, issued Saturday, was on a motion by the Great Neck School Board to dismiss the suit based on the couple's claim that the refusal to enroll their daughter violated state law. Previously, Spatt has said the school board's action did not violate the Constitution or federal law.

In past rulings, Spatt noted that the Caviezels' own religious denomination, the Buffalo-based Sanctuary of the Beloved, does not take a position on vaccination, and that the couple's three oldest children were vaccinated before they entered the Great Neck school system.

In a ruling last year, Judge Spatt said that after intensively questioning Martina Caviezel, he found "that her reluctance to have her daughter vaccinated does not arise from a religious belief, but from a moral or cultural feeling . . . views and feelings [that] are more in the nature of a secular philosophy rather than a religious belief."

"There is another simple nonreligious explanation for the plaintiff's reluctance," Spatt said. "She read articles relating to the harmful effects of vaccinations, including the fear of autism. This is surely a rational fear, but it is not of a religious nature."

The couple's attorney, Patricia Finn, a specialist in vaccine litigation, said her clients were "terribly disappointed in the court decision," and they planned to appeal.

"They are very devout, spiritual people," Finn said.

Finn said their daughter, who is now 6 years old, is enrolled in a private school.

The attorney for the Great Neck school district, Joseph Carbonaro, said the district was very sensitive to the concerns of parents, but that the district did not think that the Caviezels' suit had merit.

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