Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Court of Appeal:
‘Personal Beliefs’ Exemption Validly Excised From Law Requiring Pupil Vaccinations
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district yesterday affirmed the dismissal of an action which contested the constitutionality of a statute removing a “personal beliefs” exemption from the requirement that school children be immunized against measles, mumps, and certain other infectious diseases.
Writing for Div. Eight, Justice Elizabeth Grimes said:
“In 1890, the California Supreme Court rejected a constitutional challenge to a ‘vaccination act’ that required schools to exclude any child who had not been vaccinated against small-pox….In dismissing the suggestion that the act was ‘not within the scope of a police regulation,’ the court observed that, ‘[w]hile vaccination may not be the best and safest preventive possible, experience and observation...dating from the year 1796...have proved it to be the best method known to medical science to lessen the liability to infection with the disease.’…That being so, ‘it was for the legislature to determine whether the scholars of the public schools should be subjected to it, and we think it was justified in deeming it a necessary and salutary burden to impose upon that general class.’ ”
Grimes noted that in the period of more than 125 years since the promulgation of the opinion in that case—Abeel v. Clark—numerous state and federal cases “have upheld, against various constitutional challenges, laws requiring immunization against various diseases,” remarking:
“This is another such case, with a variation on the theme but with the same result.”
The “personal beliefs” exemption was stripped from Health & Safety Code §120325 by a 2015 bill that became effective Jan. 1, 2016. The legislation followed an outbreak of measles in December 2014—147 cases, according to the Center for Disease Control—linked to Disneyland.
Grimes’s opinion affirms a judgment of dismissal that followed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Gregory Alarcon’s sustaining of a demurrer, without leave to amend, to a complaint filed by a group of parents. The complaint invokes the state constitutional rights to freedom of religion, equal protection and due process, as well as other provisions.
As to the parents’ contention that the amended statute violates freedom of religion, Grimes declared:
“It does not.”
Federal Decision Cited
She quoted the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’s decision in the 2015 case of Phillips v. City of New York as proclaiming that “mandatory vaccination as a condition for admission to school does not violate the Free Exercise Clause.”
That decision, she noted, pointed to “persuasive dictum” in the U.S. Court’s 1944 decision in Prince v. Massachusetts. There, it was observed that a parent “cannot claim freedom from compulsory vaccination for the child…on religious grounds,” explaining:
“The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”
“Even if we were to assume that laws requiring vaccination substantially burden the free exercise of religion and therefore merit strict scrutiny, plaintiffs’ claim fails.”
The plaintiffs put forth an equal protection argument pinned to the inapplicability of the immunization requirement to children involved on home-based studies.
“The statutory classifications and exemptions plaintiffs dispute do not involve similarly situated children, or are otherwise entirely rational classifications,” Grimes responded.
She said the argument that the statute runs afoul of due process based on “vagueness” was put forth half-heartedly and ineffectually.
The jurist saw no merit in the argument that removing the “personal beliefs” exemption interferes with the state constitutional right to a free education, saying that the law, as it now stands, “is necessary or narrowly drawn to serve the compelling” state interest in guarding against the spread of infectious diseases.
The parents argued that the law, as amended, runs afoul of a statutory ban on anyone being subjected to “medical experimentation” without the person’s consent, insisting that “all vaccines are ‘medical experiments.’ ”
Grimes termed the contention “patently erroneous,” explaining:
“The applicable authorities—legal and scientific—clearly show that immunization is reasonably related to maintaining the health of the subject of the immunization as well as the public health.”
The case is Brown v. Smith, B279936.
T. Matthew Phillips represented the parents and Deputy Attorneys General Richard T. Waldow, Jonathan E. Rich and Jacquelyn Y. Young acted for Karen Smith, sued in her capacity as director of the California Department of Public Health.
Copyright 2018, Metropolitan News Company