Act Now to Protect Religious Exemptions in New Jersey

  • S2173, sponsored by Senators Loretta Weinberg (D37) and Joseph Vitale (D19), attempts to clarify statutory exemptions from mandatory immunizations for students; however, we received confirmation that the bill is currently being amended to completely remove religious exemptions. The Assembly version of this bill,  A3818, was amended on the floor of the Assembly in January 2019 and calls for a complete elimination of all religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination in New Jersey.
  • If S2173 is passed through the Senate Health Committee, the full Assembly and full Senate could potentially vote and pass a bill to eliminate all religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination in NJ on December 16, 2019. The law is written to go into effect immediately. All children who hold current religious exemptions would be removed from school immediately.
  • Sound public health policies are based in public education and trust, not coercion and fear. Telling families with sincerely held religious beliefs that they must vaccinate or lose the right to education breeds mistrust and resistance. It also separates healthy children from their community relationships and support systems.
  • Religious principles, customs, and behaviors have always been based in ideas about health, safety, cleanliness, and bodily integrity. Many vaccines contain porcine and bovine gelatin. Other childhood vaccines are produced on human cell lines (WI-38 and MRC-5) originated from terminated pregnancies. This includes: MMR, Varivax, Pentacel, Havrix, Vaqta, Twinrix, and ProQuad. If individuals find these substances objectionable for religious reasons, they would be compelled to inject them into their children’s bodies or lose their right to an education. This is simply one example of a personally held belief; it does not matter whether that belief is part of an organized religion or endorsed by religious leaders.
  • New Jersey already has effective disease control provisions in place, Statute § 26:1A-9.1. The law already provides that students with a religious exemption may be kept out of school during an emergency as determined by the State Commissioner of Health. Currently, there is no compelling emergency to unconstitutionally eliminate the religious exemption, especially when so few students use it (2.6%).  
  • As Americans, we are entitled to observe our religious tenets and to worship and express devotion in the manner of our choosing — without government, industry, or medical interference or scrutiny.  The removal of religious exemptions affects our right to make decisions for ourselves and our families. Instead, public health initiatives should focus on empowering individuals to take responsibility for themselves and their families.
  • If S2173 passes, the entire current vaccine schedule (69+ doses of 16 vaccines) — and any other vaccine the State chooses to mandate at a later time — will be mandatory for virtually all children. In effect, the State will be practicing and enforcing one-size-fits-all medicine.
  • We must send a strong message to our elected officials that, as their constituents, we will remain vigilant and intend to hold them accountable for representing us — not special interests of the pharmaceutical industry.

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NJ Bill Threatens Religious Freedom

The New Jersey legislature is moving to pass a law that would remove your right to decline a medical intervention based on your religious beliefs. They are doing so in the name of public health. However, no-exceptions public health laws, which enforce liability-free and unavoidably unsafe pharmaceutical products in the name of the greater good, violate basic human rights to bodily sovereignty, informed consent, religious freedom, conscientious decision making, all otherwise indications of poor public health initiatives. This bill favors pharmaceutical company profits over public health and children’s health. 

We, the people of New Jersey, demand that our rights — including the right to make informed vaccine decisions AND right to make decisions for ourselves and our families — be safeguarded.  

S2173 does not only impact New Jersey citizens who worship in a religious building and read a book that says, “Thou shall not….” Religious rights, and the beliefs they protect, are much broader and more comprehensive. Religious beliefs address the cause, nature, and purpose of your existence. You are entitled to your religious tenets and to worship, observe, and express devotion in the manner of your choosing. There is no hierarchy of religions. All religions are equal. The first of all amendments to the US Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution could not be more clear in their intent and importance. They protect the legitimacy and integrity of all citizens to worship in a manner agreeable to the dictates of their own conscience, without interference or scrutiny. The removal of religious exemptions affects every citizen’s right to make decisions for themself and their family. 

Even though the popular consensus may be that vaccines are safe and effective, these are relative terms. There is no pharmaceutical product on the market that is safe and effective for everyone, and vaccines are no exception. In fact, there is agreement within the scientific community that vaccines can and do harm a small but significant minority of children and adults. Despite this, neither the federal government nor the predominant physician professional organizations have done anything to identify and protect those who are vulnerable. For too long, it has been too easy for them to avoid any responsibility to the victims — past, present, and future.  

The 1986 National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act removed all liability from vaccine manufacturers and established the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to adjudicate the overwhelming number of claims and cover the mounting costs of settlements with the families of those injured and killed. To date, more than $4.2 billion has been paid to claimants for vaccine injury and death, and each year the number of families compensated increases. This growth mirrors the ever increasing number of vaccines being added to the immunization schedule along with the ever increasing awareness among the public that vaccine injuries are not as rare as we have been led to believe. 

Compensation for a death ruled due to vaccine injury is capped at $250,000. Holly Stavola of New Jersey died from her second MMR vaccine at 5 years of age. The Stavola family received the highest level of compensation after a US Federal Claims Court ruled that Holly’s death was a result of the MMR vaccination that Holly received shortly after her 5th birthday; this vaccine is a standard entry requirement into kindergarten. Holly’s Law was then passed by the NJ legislature in 2004 acknowledging the risk associated with vaccination. This law stipulates that parents have the choice to opt out of the second dose of the MMR vaccine for their children with proof of titers testing. 

Vaccine injury is widely known to be underreported. A study completed by Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health found that “fewer than 1% of vaccine adverse events are reported.” These results were ignored by the CDC, despite the ostensible purpose of the study, which was to improve vaccine adverse event reporting. 

Facts such as these — and the knowledge that they have been downplayed, covered up, and in some cases altered — are the reason that public distrust in the vaccine program is increasing every day. Public Health authorities have been saying for years that the science is settled and that vaccines don’t cause autism. Despite these assurances, Julie Gerberding, former head of the CDC, has conceded that in susceptible children, the administration of vaccines can “trigger” a regression that results in “autism-like symptoms.”  

Every vaccine is a distinct medical intervention. Each has its own distinct potential risks and benefits, just as each illness has unique characteristics that differ from person to person. It is each of us as unique individuals whose collective well being makes up public health. Public health and individual freedoms can be simultaneously achieved.  One does not have to be compromised for the other to exist. For these reasons, a commitment by our state legislature to uphold vaccine choice and vaccine safety is not only consistent with the goal of public health, it is absolutely essential. 

New Jersey residents  must implore our representatives to avoid committing the kind of error that will be remembered forever as a dark chapter in our history. Healthy families that are free to pursue health their own decisions make up a healthy society. Take action TODAY and tell your legislators to protect the ability of families to live in congruence with their deepest held beliefs without being ostracized or denied school entrance. Email, call and tweet to NJ Senate Health Committee now!

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