Homeschoolers fight state legislation that criminalizes parents who object
By Ron Strom
West Virginia homeschooling families and others were scheduled to stage two rallies today to protest a proposed bill that would require every child in the state to have a record of compulsory immunizations.
The legislation, Senate Bill 439, stipulates “any parent or guardian who refuses to permit his or her child to be immunized” would face a criminal charge.
The rallies, sponsored by West Virginians for Vaccination Exemption, were scheduled to take place at the state Capitol in Charleston and outside the Marion County Courthouse in Fairmont.
“If passed, this bill will turn all West Virginian parents who choose not to vaccinate for religious reasons into criminals or force them to move to another state,” Helen Tucker, co-founder of WVVE and state chair of the Libertarian Party of West Virginia, said in a statement.
Unlike 48 other states, West Virginia currently does not have a provision for a religious or philosophical exemption. However, families can assert they have sufficient medical reason for not immunizing a child, which works, in effect, like an exemption. The new bill would do away with that right.
The legislation, which is sponsored by Sen. Joseph M. Minard and Sen. Roman Prezioso, both Democrats, also adds hepatitis B and chickenpox vaccines to the list of mandatory shots. WVVE says the chickenpox vaccine is manufactured with human cell cultures obtained from abortions and is objectionable to many parents for religious reasons.
Reads the bill, in part: “The state has a compelling interest in protecting the health of all citizens of this state, especially our children. With vaccines widely available to reduce or prevent the incidence of disease, the state bureau for public health has determined that the point of school entry is the best time to confirm each child’s record of compulsory immunization from the diseases enumerated in subsection (c) of this section.”
The bill establishes a fine of between $100 and $500 for any parent who refuses to show the state a valid immunization record for his or her child.
WVVE is demanding the bill be amended to:
- include religious and philosophical exemption from all mandatory vaccinations;
- eliminate all penalties for parents who choose not to vaccinate;
- require vaccinations only for children attending school;
- restore physicians’ rights to exercise individual judgment in issuing medical exemptions; and
- eliminate the state’s “compelling interest” that supersedes parental choice and requires compulsory immunizations for “each child.”
The Rev. Thomas J. Euteneuer, president of Human Life International, is also involved in the protest of the bill.
Commented Euteneuer in a statement: “Along with Mississippi, West Virginia is the only state to forbid religious vaccine exemptions. This bill goes even further by prohibiting physicians from granting medical exemptions according to what they believe is best for each patient. Senate Bill 439 would also make West Virginia the only state to force homeschoolers to be immunized.
“It is deplorable that the West Virginia department of health is attempting to mandate these vaccines without an exemption,” said the minister. “State officials have a moral and legal responsibility to uphold parents’ constitutional right to make an informed decision about the medical care their children receive. They’re taking the fruit of the poison tree and making us eat it.”
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA, opposes the legislation.
Scott Woodruff, an attorney with the organization, explained the bill leaves families with religious or philosophical objections to vaccinations no recourse.
If the bill passes, Woodruff told WND, “There would be no way a family with religious exemptions could defend itself. They would have no way of winning an argument in front of a judge.”
Continued Woodruff, “We are going to communicate to our members that this bill strips parents of important rights.” He says HSLDA will e-mail its members in West Virginia informing them of the proposal.
“This bill would take away a very important right to direct the health care of children,” Woodruff said. “Fundamentally, it’s the parents who should direct the health care of their own children, not the government.”
Woodruff mentioned data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate an exemption from vaccines does not cause a higher occurrence of diseases.
“In areas of preventing disease, we have to give parents wide discretion,” he said.
A second reading of the bill in the state Senate is scheduled for tomorrow. A final vote could occur as early as Thursday.