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Connecticut’s vaccine exemption ban survives legal challenge

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(The Center Square) — The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear a case challenging Connecticut’s 2021 ban on religious exemption for school vaccination requirements.

A lawsuit filed by parents and conservative groups argued that the state violated their First Amendment rights by approving a bill that eliminated the option for Connecticut families to request a religious exemption to mandated immunizations when a student enrolls in public school. Several previous court rulings rejected the legal challenge.

But the high court, without commenting, declined to consider a petition from the plaintiffs who had filed a writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court asking justices to take up the legal challenge.

Attorney General William Tong said the Supreme Court’s rejection of the legal challenge affirms that the state Legislature “acted responsibly and well within its authority to protect the health of Connecticut families and to stop the spread of preventable disease” when it approved the restrictions.

“This is the end of the road to a challenge to Connecticut’s lifesaving and fully lawful vaccine requirements,” the Democrat said in a statement.

Brian Festa, co-founder, and vice president of We the Patriots USA, Inc. — one of two groups that filed the legal challenge — called the Supreme Court’s decision “disappointing” but vowed to press on with nationwide efforts to overturn laws banning religious objections to vaccines.

“We are engaged in a prolonged war to regain health freedom and religious liberty for as many children as possible,” he said in a statement. “This was just one loss in a single battle, and does not define us. We still have much work to do, not only in the two trials we just mentioned, but in many others playing out across the country.”

Festa said one of the group’s legal challenges remains active within the federal courts and deals with students who have disabilities and whether they are “entitled to receive an education, even if they opt out of vaccinations.” That case has been on hold while the Supreme Court considered the group’s writ of certiorari.

Lawyers for the group will also argue a federal lawsuit they filed against Connecticut after it attempted to shut down a Christian school because it continued to honor religious exemptions for students after the ban was approved.

“This was a direct attack on religion by the state, and earlier this month a federal judge allowed us to proceed in the lawsuit with an amended complaint,” Festa said. “We now look forward to a trial in that case as well, which would give religious/parochial schools the ability to accept religious exemptions to vaccinations for students.”

The 2021 Connecticut law eliminated religious exemptions for students required to receive certain immunizations before enrolling in school. The state still allows medical exemptions for vaccines, and kindergarten through 12th-grade students who had already received such exemptions were “grandfathered” under the law.

That left preschool and other early education schools without similar accommodations for religious exemptions, already granted, which the plaintiffs in the lawsuit argued was unfair.

In August, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a lower court ruling that rejected the lawsuit challenging the state’s repeal of religious exemptions.

The three-panel appellate court’s majority ruled that the Connecticut law contained “no trace” of hostility toward religious believers and did not violate objectors’ constitutional rights to due process and the free exercise of religion.

At least other states — California, Maine, Mississippi, New York and West Virginia — have also done away with religious exemptions.

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