This state took away "religious exemptions" for protecting your kids. A court just said it's ok. (Op-ed)

CONNECTICUT - To nobody’s surprise, the Daily Caller reported that the left-leaning Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court ruling that upheld a Connecticut State law that undermines the First Amendment by banning religious exemptions against immunizations in schools and universities.

In a split 2-1 decision, the Second Circuit upheld Public Act 21-6 (PA21-6), blocking religious vaccine exemptions passed in 2021. That law saw Connecticut join Mississippi, California, New York, and Maine as states that do not permit parents to exercise religious vaccine exemptions. In the case of West Virginia, that state does not allow such exemptions. However, it never did in the first place.

“Only one court—state or federal, trial, or appellate—has ever found plausible a claim of constitutional defect in a state’s school vaccination mandate on account of the absence or repeal of a religious exemption,” Judge Denny Chin, an Obama appointee, wrote for the majority. “We decline to disturb this nearly unanimous consensus.”

Judge Joseph Bianco, appointed by Donald Trump, wrote a dissenting opinion, using legal grounds rather than the merits of Connecticut’s power to mandate vaccinations.

“The Supreme Court and this Court have made clear, and with good reason, that it is within a state’s police powers to establish such a requirement,” Bianco wrote in his partial dissent.

The debate over vaccinations and religious exemptions began during the COVID-19 pandemic. A recent hearing conducted in the House by the Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic saw discussions centering around vaccine mandates and attempts by the federal government to mandate vaccinations on non-healthcare-related private companies. Several legal rulings have gutted federal attempts to do so.

Connecticut has been the scene of several legal battles over vaccine mandates, with one such case involving a church that refused to comply with vaccine mandates in its private school system.
The Second Circuit’s ruling appears to apply PA21-6 to all “schoolchildren, college and university students, and childcare participants” within Connecticut, thereby requiring immunizations in compliance with state law, regardless of religious objections.

In his opinion, Chin wrote that the law had “no trace” of hostility toward religious persons, nor did it violate objectors’ constitutional rights to due process and the free exercise of religion.

The measure, signed into law by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, was challenged by two groups- We The Patriots USA and the CT Freedom Alliance- as well as three Connecticut parents.

Bianco wrote that the majority was too anxious to dismiss First Amendment concerns while noting that the approach could endanger challenges to other vaccine mandates, such as one against the mandate for the COVID-19 shot, which has been tied to numerous health issues for those who have received it. He noted this could be problematic “once the government invoked generalized concerns about public safety.”

Reuters reported that Norm Pattis, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, will likely ask for the complete 13-judge Second Circuit to review the case or possibly the United States Supreme Court. “The dissent got it right—it is irrational to permit students to claim a medical exemption but to deny other students the right to claim a religious exemption,” he said.

We The Patriots USA co-founder Brian Festa argued that Connecticut’s position showed a “fundamental misunderstanding” of First Amendment Rights. “We fully intend to seek review of this decision in the United States Supreme Court," Festa wrote, "to obtain equal justice for all children—not only in Connecticut but in every state in the nation."

We The Patriots USA focuses on religious and medical freedom, parental rights, and other matters, Festa added.

The plaintiffs also argued that it was “bizarre” that while anyone who previously had a religious exemption was grandfathered under the Connecticut law, the state argued that scuttling the religious exemption was done out of “safety” concerns, showing a measure of hypocrisy and lack of consistency.

The Second Circuit returned part of the group’s lawsuit to the lower court for further consideration, a move Festa called “a victory” for special needs children in Connecticut. One of the plaintiffs argued that Connecticut’s law denied her disabled son a free and appropriate education under the Individuals With Disabilities in Education Act by not allowing him a religious exemption.

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