Citizen Demand to Suspend Religious Exemption Repeal and Uphold Children's Legal Rights

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*please share widely: I hand-delivered this petition to the Chancellor on 9/9/19, with all the comments and all the signatures printed out--about 200 pages worth.  3500 signatures at that point after only a day and a half.  Wow.  Please keep the signatures and comments coming.  Real change takes tenacity and commitment.  We are up against the most powerful industry in this country.  I plan to attend the next meeting with all the new signatures and comments.  We are not going away!

Citizen Demand to Suspend Religious Exemption Repeal and uphold State and Federal Rights of New York children

To the Board of Regents:

We, the undersigned are convinced that our state and federal rights are currently being violated by the recent repeal of the religious exemption from vaccine mandates to attend school that was passed by the NYS legislature and signed by the Governor on June 13th of this year.  We assert that you, as the Board of Regents for the New York State Department of Education, have a legal and moral duty to uphold existing laws that protect the rights of all children and all people in New York.  If there is a conflict between a recently passed law and existing laws, the existing laws prevail until they are legally overturned.  We are drawing attention to the fact that the Board of Regents is in a legal predicament at this moment in time.  This Board of Regents has an important decision to make:  Uphold and implement this unconstitutional and morally reprehensible law that has 9 lawsuits currently leveled against it, or uphold the multiple mandates already well established in New York State law and Federal Law, which I will enumerate here, for clarity of intent.

1. The New York State Constitution states in Article 1 (BILL OF RIGHTS), Section 3:  §3. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed in this state to all humankind; and no person shall be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his or her opinions on matters of religious belief; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this state. (Amended by vote of the people November 6, 2001.)

This law provides all children and their families with broad religious freedom of “profession and worship,” which arguably includes the right to refuse medical procedures inconsistent with their religious worship practices.  Until it is proven in a court of law that the population of unvaccinated children with previously valid religious exemptions, are engaging in practices “inconsistent with the peace or safety of this state,” then they continue to hold this constitutional right to religious freedom.  Any claim that their unvaccinated status puts others at risk is mere conjecture and belief and has not been proven or stood the test of inquiry and investigation, so must not be considered fact. This is a basic principle of law which is being ignored.  Many would argue that these children pose no more risk than any vaccinated child (who also is capable of transmitting disease asymptomatically) or other unvaccinated individuals who do not hold religious exemptions, such as “adults whose immunity may have waned” (in the words of judge Hartman,) 18 year old students, who are exempt because of age, and the very few students with medical exemptions.

2.  The New York State Constitution states in Article XI (EDUCATION), Section 1: The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated. (Formerly §1 of Art. 9. Renumbered by Constitutional Convention of 1938 and approved by vote of the people November 8, 1938.

Unless you can logically explain to us how “all children” doesn’t apply to the 26,000 children with religious exemptions, then it appears to us that New York State is obliged by law to provide these children with an education, even if these families continue individual religious worship practices which preclude the medical practice of vaccination.

3.  The Dignity for All Students Act of 2018:  New York Education Law, Title 1, Article 2—Dignity for All Students—Section 12:  No student shall be subjected to harassment or bullying by employees or students on school property or at a school function; nor shall any student be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s actual or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, gender, or sex by school employees or students on school property or at a school function.

If no student shall be subjected to discrimination based on a person’s religion or religious practice, does that not include all children who held valid religious exemptions which were vetted by the state for sincerity?  If our children are to be free of discrimination does that not equally apply to discrimination from fellow students as well as discrimination from the NYS board of education, Department of Health, and NYS legislature? Is the State and its Departments somehow exempt from following this law?

4.  IDEA:  Federally mandated Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 guarantees a free and appropriate public education to children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children.

According to this Federal mandate, NYS has a legal obligation to educate children with IEP’s and provide them with the services outlined in the IEP’s.  If these children are excluded from school, the state will have to provide those services at home, creating an untenable financial burden on taxpayers and school districts.  Furthermore, many of the services needed by children with IEP’s relate to social and emotional development and are not feasible outside the social environment of the school.  How does the Board of Regents and its New York State Department of Education plan to provide for these children’s education?

5.  The Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disabilities and the U.S. Dept. of Education determined in 1991, in reference to children with AIDS, that “Discrimination based solely on the fear of contagion is discrimination based on handicap when the impairment has that effect on others.”

If children with AIDS can be guaranteed the right to attend school, free of discrimination, then why cannot unvaccinated and completely healthy children with religious exemptions, be guaranteed the same right?

6.  And finally, as we all know, in spite of Judge Hartman’s recent ruling, the U.S. Constitution, first Amendment, says that Congress shall make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

In her explanation of the denial of Mr. Sussman’s class action lawsuit requesting a stay, Judge Hartman specified that the plaintiff was highlighting federal constitutional rights and made no claim regarding state constitutional rights. As the repeal was enacted by NYS and not by the U.S. Congress, it could be argued not to apply to this situation.  However, the Sussman case is in the appeals process and headed for the U.S. Supreme Court, and new law suits are in the process of being filed which address the violation of New York State constitutional rights to religious freedom.  All 9 of those cases are still pending.  As such “the Jury is still out,” so to speak.

In light of all of the above, we, the undersigned, on behalf of all affected children and their families in New York, demand that the Board of Regents immediately suspend the implementation of the Religious Exemption Repeal, until a full investigation is completed into whether this law is in violation of other fundamental rights already established by the U.S. Constitution First Amendment, the New York State Constitution Articles I and XI, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Dignity for All Students Act.