Vaccine Exemptions and the Church-State Problem


Dena S. Davis, The Journal of Clinical Ethics 28, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 250-4.


All of the 50 states of the United States have laws governing childhood vaccinations; 48 allow for religious exemptions, while 19 also offer exemptions based on some sort of personal philosophy. Recent disease outbreaks have caused these states to reconsider philosophical exemptions. However, we cannot, consistent with the U.S. Constitution, give preference to religion by creating religious exemptions only. The Constitution requires states to put religious and nonreligious claims on equal footing. Given the ubiquity of nonreligious objections to vaccination, I conclude that the best response is to remove all exemptions, as two states have already done. But removing exemptions should not end our concern for children. Removing exemptions only bars children from public schools; it still leaves them unvaccinated, a danger to others, and reliant on whatever nonpublic schooling is available. If public school attendance is not enough of an incentive for vaccine reluctant parents, perhaps we should look into stronger measures.


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