Final arguments have been heard in a case in Ohio where public health officials are defending a decade-old mandate that all schools must vaccinate students, backed by the recommendation of public health officials.
The parents have objected to the mandate, claiming their religion prohibits them from vaccinating their children, a decision that public health officials and the Ohio governor continue to defend.
In October, the United States Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit unanimously upheld a district court ruling, ruling that the Cleveland suburban Cleveland school district has broad authority to implement the requirement.
At issue is a state law passed in 2007 that requires children entering Ohio schools to be vaccinated. If children can’t be vaccinated, the state said, their parents must agree to a disease-specific plan that includes education on vaccines and immune globulin.
The provision was passed after a measles outbreak that sent dozens of students home from Franklin Township schools.
In 2014, the US Supreme Court rejected an appeal from the parents of a toddler who sued the state of Ohio claiming that the requirement to submit a disease-specific plan violated their religious rights.
One of the parents was Catholic, one was not. The parent with non-Catholics children expressed fear that mandating immunizations was akin to forcing them to participate in “forced physical therapy or prayer.”
Dana Nessel, the attorney representing the parents, said Friday that they are suing the state to comply with their religious freedom.
“Vaccination is a much-needed public health and safety tool and the state of Ohio need not and should not force any parent to immunize their child against diseases such as measles if they do not want to,” Nessel said.
Michael Desch, a professor at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and law school dean, says that the attorneys for the parents have “common sense” arguments.
“We have no legal obligation to force someone to immunize their child against something that is damaging,” Desch said.
The Ohio Department of Health and the school district have filed motions to reconsider the case before a larger panel of judges.
“This proceeding was properly started when the district court determination, should it be affirmed, was entered by order in late October. It was not properly stayed by the 6th Circuit and the state will ask that the case be remanded for the court to re-hear the parties’ expert testimony in a fair and proper manner,” said Dr. Mary DiOrio, Ohio Department of Health deputy chief of communicable disease control and prevention.
Attorneys for the district, superintendent, school board and city of Cleveland have been filing briefs on the case.
Cleveland.com reports the state will make its request to the 6th Circuit before the end of this month.
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