First Amendment topicsAbout the First Amendment
News Story
2nd federal judge strikes down religious exemptions to Arkansas vaccination law

By The Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A second federal judge has struck down a religious exemption to a state statute requiring vaccinations before children can attend public school.

The exemption, granted only to members of "recognized churches," violates the establishment and free-exercise clauses of the First Amendment, Judge Susan Webber Wright ruled yesterday.

The decision left intact the state's vaccination requirement, meaning students still are subject to the requirement with no religious exemption to immunization.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Cynthia Boone, the mother of a student who refused to be vaccinated. The lawsuit said that although Ashley Boone is not a member of a recognized religious group with tenets against vaccinations, she personally believes that vaccinations "are against the will of her God."

Cabot High School officials had barred Ashley from classes during the 2001-2002 school year because she refused to be vaccinated against hepatitis B, a sexually transmitted disease.

Boone filed a federal lawsuit against the school district and the Arkansas Health Department, claiming the state selectively allows religious exemptions from vaccinations.

After the suit was filed, Wright temporarily ordered the district to allow Ashley to return to classes. The order was later extended to allow her to finish the school year.

As a result of yesterday's ruling, Ashley will have to be vaccinated in order to return for her senior year.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ..."

The effect of Arkansas' religious exemption, Wright said in yesterday's ruling, was to discriminate against individuals with sincerely held individual religious beliefs.

"It is difficult to imagine how the state would have a compelling interest in limiting the religious exemption to some religious sects and individuals over others," the judge wrote.

Wright's ruling follows a similar federal decision last month. On July 25, U.S. District Judge Robert Dawson ruled the religious-exemption section of Arkansas' law "runs afoul of the establishment and free exercise clauses of the First Amendment and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment."

Dawson's ruling also left intact the state's vaccination requirement.

Boone's suit was among several before Wright challenging the state's policy on vaccinations.

The judge dismissed one in its entirety yesterday, that of Susan Brock of Royal, who also claimed that immunizing her children from hepatitis B would interfere with her authority to teach her four school-age children abstinence in accordance with her religious beliefs.

Wright said her ruling in the Boone case rendered Brock's case moot.


Federal judge rejects religious exemptions to Arkansas immunization law

Family objects to having to define its religion; judge agrees that's unconstitutional but says all students must be vaccinated. 07.29.02

8th Circuit won't consider Arkansas school vaccination case
Panel finds changes made to state law have granted the exemptions students and parents requested, leaving no legal issue for court to decide. 03.09.04

News summary page
View the latest news stories throughout the First Amendment Center Online.

print this   Print

Last system update: Sunday, January 25, 2009 | 06:41:57
About this site
About the First Amendment
About the First Amendment Center
First Amendment programs
State of the First Amendment

First Reports
Supreme Court
First Amendment publications
First Amendment Center history
Freedom Singsā„¢
First Amendment

Congressional Research Service reports
Guest editorials
FOI material
The First Amendment

Lesson plans
Contact us
Privacy statement
Related links