Summer brings freedom

Summer brings freedom

Summer brings freedom

The Mississippi Department of Health is on a deadline to come up with a process by which families with school-age children can apply for a religious exemption to vaccines.

The court-ordered deadline comes after a federal judge ruled last month that Mississippi must give a religious exemption to vaccines.

The state does not require that students have COVID-19 shots for school, so these would be vaccines for things like tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, and chickenpox.

"We are very heartened for the families in Mississippi whose religious beliefs have not been honored by the state of Mississippi for far too long," says Aaron Siri, an attorney involved in the case on behalf of families seeking religious exemptions. "It has been 44 years since Mississippi has had a religious exemption in order to attend school without all the mandated vaccines."

Siri points out that the first freedom under the Constitution is the right to religious freedom.

Siri, Aaron (attorney) Siri

"It is the right to be able to live your life guided by your own convictions," he says. "That freedom needs to be carefully guarded by our court system, because if you cannot live your conscience, you are really undoing the American founding principle."

The attorney adds that the courts have been very careful to only let the state impinge on one's sincerely held religious beliefs "in the most dire circumstances."

Pointing to Mississippi's vaccine policy for public and private schools, Siri says it is clearly possible to accommodate students who do not have all the mandated vaccines.

"We know that because there is a secular exemption," he continues. "There are all forms of medical reasons that children cannot get certain vaccines or that can get an exemption from the vaccines, and the state does not exclude them from school; it still lets them go to school, which shows that it is not a health imperative to exclude children from school who do not have all required vaccines."

Whether the state's Department of Health will appeal the decision remains to be seen. Spokeswoman Liz Sharlot told Associated Press in April, "The Mississippi State Department of Health continues to support strong immunization laws that protect our children. Beyond that, it is our long-standing policy that the Agency does not comment on pending litigation."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, the only states without religious or personal belief exemptions for school immunization requirements are California, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and West Virginia. Mississippi remains on the list until July 15th, which is the deadline U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden has set for the Mississippi State Department of Health to allow religious exemptions.