ALBANY — A judge once again upheld a new state law eliminating a religious exemption from mandatory vaccines for children in schools.
The new law doesn’t violate constitutional rights to freedom of religion, State Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman said, citing years of legal precedent.
“The courts addressing this question have uniformly concluded that compulsory vaccination laws without religious exemptions are constitutional …,” Hartman wrote in a decision filed with the state court system Friday.
Further, Hartman rejected the claims — made by more than 50 families — that the new law violated the constitutional guarantees to equal protection and free speech, and that it was driven by lawmakers’ “animus” toward religion.
The new law repealing the religious exemption, the judge ruled, clearly was approved because of public health concerns in the wake of New York’s biggest measles outbreak in decades.
“Here, the overall history and context of New York’s law, the series of events leading up to the repeal of the religious exemption, and the legislative history of the repeal, all lead to the inexorable conclusion that the repeal was driven by public health concerns, not religious animus,” Hartman wrote.
In August, Hartman reached a similar conclusion when she dismissed the parents’ lawsuit claiming New York didn’t have the authority to require vaccinations. She refused to grant the parents an injunction to block application of the new law.
At the time, she said the plaintiffs also were unlikely to prevail on their claims of constitutional violations.
Attorney General Letitia James, who defended the state statute in court, hailed the ruling.
“Vaccines ensure the health and safety of our children, our families, and our communities,” James said in a statement. “This law will help protect New Yorkers from experiencing any additional public health crises, which is why we vigorously defended it. We are pleased with the decision by the court.”
Michael Sussman, attorney for the anti-vaccination plaintiffs, said he’ll appeal the decision and try to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if possible.
“I think the issues are beyond her decision,” Sussman said of Hartman’s ruling. “I don’t accept her constitutional analysis.”
The lawsuit revolves around a law enacted by the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in June eliminating a religious exemption to New York’s vaccine requirements for school-age children.
They took action following the biggest outbreak of measles in 25 years, with about 1,000 cases reported in the state, mostly in New York City and Rockland County.
The law doesn’t order that children be vaccinated. But it does bar unvaccinated children from public schools and day care programs.