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Other Legal Options If You Religiously Oppose Immunizations

First of all, you need to know that the law does not require you to list your religion on your exemption letter.

But, what are your other legal options?

Current Texas immunization exemption laws are in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because they discriminate based on state determined religious affiliations.  Parents in other states, like New York and Massachusetts, who legally challenged restrictive discriminatory religious immunization exemption laws like Texas's as unconstitutional have been successful. 

In February of 1997, State Representative Carolyn Galloway forwarded PROVE a legal opinion drafted by the Office of General Counsel at the Texas Department of Health dated June 2, 1995 stating that "Any effort to disallow an affidavit from a person whose religious beliefs do not come from a "recognized" religion is likely to be challenged on constitutional grounds...school districts should  be aware that the religious exemption statute is vulnerable to a challenge from an applicant whose sincere religious beliefs do not derive from the teachings of a "recognized" or "organized" religion."  It also says that "Neither this provision, nor similar provisions in other statutes require that the parent name the particular religion to which they adhere, but it does not prevent the school from making the inquiry in an effort to determine the accuracy of the statement of the affidavit."

Additionally, on December 8, 1998, The Liberty legal Institute helped a Houston family file suit against the Katy Independent School district for discriminating against their son because of religious beliefs (see Texas Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit).  Their press release stated that "The state of Texas has impermissibly tried to define acceptable religious beliefs...The state should not be a doctrinal monitor of religious beliefs.  That is an inappropriate function of government."  Once challenged by a lawsuit, the school district settled and allowed the Catholic boy into school. 

Below are some possible edits to the sample religious exemption letter provided by PROVE based on the above comments. However, you must know that these changes will most likely result in your letter being refused since they don't meet the requirements of the law, but it will set your foundation for a constitutional challenge of the statute. Again, this does not constitute legal advice.   Please consult a lawyer if you have questions.

One option could be to remove the name of the religion while not claiming that the tenets and practices of your religion oppose immunizations.  For example, you could change the first paragraph to read:

"In accordance with the Texas Education Code, Section 38.001, regarding exceptions to immunization requirements, we hereby certify that the administration of vaccine and other immunizing agents to our child, ______________________, conflicts with our family's sincere religious beliefs. We therefore request that our child be exempted from the school immunization requirements."

Another option could be to change the first paragraph to reflect the fact that your family has sincere religious beliefs against immunization but you belong to a recognized religion that does not have specific tenets against immunizations. Sometimes schools will accept this more readily because a "recognized" religion or church is listed. For example:

"In accordance with the Texas Education Code, Section 38.001, regarding exceptions to immunization requirements, we hereby certify that the administration of vaccine and other immunizing agents to our child, ______________________, conflicts with our family's sincere religious beliefs which are derived from the tenets and practice of the recognized church, _____________________, of which we are members. We therefore request that our child be exempted from the school immunization requirements."

Again, if you submit either of these options, it is possible and probable that the school or day care facility may still try to refuse to admit your child because the wording is not 100% in synch with what the law requires, but they sometimes do work.  If you go this route with one of these wording changes, your only remedy if the exemption were denied would be a constitutional court challenge. Your chances of successfully challenging the school would be greatly enhanced if you demand an immediate written explanation for the refusal of acceptance of your exemption letter.  Be firm.  It would be very difficult for the school to keep your child out without a written explanation anyway. You can politely inform the school that until you receive written notification why specifically they are not accepting your current exemption letter, that your child will remain in school.  Sometimes a copy of the press release for the Texas Vaccine Exemption Lawsuit can help the school or day care put things into perspective. Please stay in close contact with Dawn Richardson of PROVE www.vaccineinfo.net or (512) 288-3999 if your religious exemption letter is refused.  We can refer you to the legal help necessary to successfully challenge this.

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April 5, 2008

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