The City Council for the District of Columbia passed an ordinance in 2020 which allows students as young as 11 years old to obtain an FDA-approved vaccine without their parents’ permission, even in cases where parents had obtained a religious or medical exemption.

Concerned parents sued the city, and a federal judge has now issued a preliminary injunction blocking that law, noting that the ordinance violates the religious freedom of parents.

The ordinance is titled “Minor Consent for Vaccinations Amendment Act of 2020” (MCA). It contains a section that singles out religion for unusual treatment:

If a minor student is utilizing a religious exemption for vaccinations or is opting out of receiving the Human Papillomavirus vaccine, but the minor student is receiving vaccinations under section 600.9 of Title 22-B of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations (22-B DCMR Section 600.9), the health care provider shall leave blank part 3 of the immunization record, and submit the immunization record directly to the minor student’s school. The school shall keep the immunization record received from the health care provider confidential; except, that the school may share the record with the Department of Health or the school-based health center.

In a nutshell, the ordinance would allow minors as young as 11 to go behind their parents’ back to obtain a vaccination after those parents had obtained a religious exemption for their child, and the school and health care provider are required to conceal any such vaccinations from the parents.

The District’s public schools have an ongoing advertising campaign with various incentives designed to push kids toward vaccination. Participation in various extra-curricular school activities requires certain vaccines, such as for COVID-19. Parents noted that their children felt pressure to get vaccinated.

It’s important to note the provision applies only to children of parents who claim a religious exemption. If parents claimed a medical exemption, the health care provider is required to fill out the immunization record.

It’s just religious parents who are not entitled to know what their children may be doing behind their backs and without permission, possibly in response to the school’s coercion or peer pressure.

That, by any generous interpretation, is outrageous.

It also means that the parents who sued will likely succeed in their argument that the ordinance violates their freedom of religion under the First Amendment, said U.S. Federal District Judge Trevor McFadden in his March 18 ruling explaining the reasoning behind his issuance of an injunction.

“The MCA burdens religious practice by withholding from religious parents information available to secular parents who file a medical exemption for their children. Thus, the law is not generally applicable,” the judge wrote.

The judge also ruled, as a second ground for his injunction, that the District’s ordinance runs contrary to, and is preempted by a federal law on vaccines, the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986, which requires transparency and that vaccine information be given to the legal representatives of children receiving vaccines.

It’s the responsibility and duty of parents to guide and direct their children’s education, as well as to decide what medicines and vaccines their children receive. Government edicts that impinge on that parental responsibility need to be, constitutionally speaking, limited to only the most compelling of circumstances.

And the government certainly may not, under the First Amendment, target religion for differential treatment in such cases.

The lawsuit will proceed to trial while the injunction remains in effect. We’ll keep you apprised of developments as they occur.

The case is Booth v. Bowser.


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