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Texas Religious Freedom Law Offers Alternative to Religious Exemption to Immunization

On June 10, 1999, Governor Bush signed into law Senate Bill 138 thus removing state governmental restrictions on the free exercise of religion in Texas.  This law went into effect on August 30th, 1999.

This law may have interesting implications regarding the free exercise of sincere personal religious beliefs to refuse immunizations in Texas.  The previous section of this web site explains that Texas laws specific to immunization exemptions do not recognize personal religious beliefs or beliefs derived from recognized religious organizations whose tenets and practices are not formally opposed to immunizations.

Provisions of this statute guarantee that "this chapter applies to each law of this state" and "a government agency may not substantially burden a person's free exercise of religion."  It goes on to state that this protection "does not apply if the government agency demonstrates that the application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest."   I am not a lawyer, but I don't see how a health or education agency can claim a "compelling governmental interest" when religious exemptions to immunization are already provided for in these areas in the state law. Additionally, 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, were successful. 

If after precisely following all the requirements and provisions of this statute (especially in Sec. 110.006. NOTICE; RIGHT TO ACCOMMODATE) and your free exercise of your sincere religious beliefs regarding the refusal immunizations are still burdened by an agency of the state, you have many new legal rights under this law: "Any person, other than a government agency, who successfully asserts a claim or defense under this chapter is entitled to recover: (1)  declaratory relief under Chapter 37; (2)  injunctive relief to prevent the threatened violation or continued violation; (3)  compensatory damages for pecuniary and nonpecuniary losses; and (4)  reasonable attorney's fees, court costs, and other reasonable expenses incurred in bringing the action.

If you decide to go this route, please stay in close contact with Dawn Richardson of PROVE or (512) 288-3999.  I am not aware of anyone exercising their rights under this law with regard to the refusal of immunizations yet, and this would be an important test case of this law.  We can provide legal referrals to lawyers with expert backgrounds in these areas who are most qualified to yield a positive precedent. The entire text of Chapter 110 of Title 5 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code can be read at:

http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/statutes/ci/ci0011000toc.html

 
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April 5, 2008

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