experience with securing a religious exemption in New York? - Mothering Forums

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Old 08-20-2006, 04:53 PM - Thread Starter
 
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I was poking around online to see what the New York state requirements are for a religious exemption. I found this form which is a request for a religious exemption.

http://emsc33.nysed.gov/sss/HealthSe...munization.htm


Quote:
Its purpose is to establish the religious basis for your request since the State permits exemptions on the basis of a sincere religious belief. Philosophical, political, scientific, or sociological objections to immunization do not justify an exemption under Department of Health regulation 10 NYCRR, Section 66-1.3 (d), which requires the submission of:

A written and signed statement from the parent, parents, or guardian of such child, stating that the parent, parents or guardian objects to their child’s immunization due to sincere and genuine religious beliefs which prohibit the immunization of their child in which case the principal or person in charge may require supporting documents.

In the area provided below, please write your statement. The statement must address all of the following elements:
• Explain in your own words why you are requesting this religious exemption.
• Describe the religious principles that guide your objection to immunization.
• Indicate whether you are opposed to all immunizations, and if not, the religious basis that prohibits particular immunizations.
Then in a section for school district use only:

Quote:
To the Building Principal:

If, after review of the parental statement, questions remain about the existence of a sincerely held religious belief, Department of Health regulation [10 NYCRR, Section 66-1.3(d)] permits the principal to request supporting documents. Some examples include:

• A letter from an authorized representative of the church, temple, religious institution, etc. attended by the parent/guardian, literature from the church, temple, religious institution, etc. explaining doctrine/beliefs that prohibit immunization (Note: Parents/guardians need not necessarily be a member of an organized religion or religious institution to obtain a religious exemption);
• Other writings or sources upon which the parent/guardian relied in formulating religious beliefs that prohibit immunization;
• A copy of any parental/guardian statements to healthcare providers or school district officials in a district of prior residence explaining the religious basis for refusing immunization;
• Any documents or other information the parent/guardian may be willing to provide that reflect a sincerely held religious objection to immunization (for example: disclosure of whether parent/guardian or other children have been immunized, parent/guardian’s current position on allowing himself or herself or his or her children to receive or refuse other kinds of medical treatment.)
Wow. This is a big difference from the exemption form in Vermont, which basically says "I request that immunizations for my child be waived because they conflict with free exercise of religious or moral rights." Granted, Vermont doesn't make a point of allowing religious exemptions while not recognizing a philosophical/moral exemption, so the state doesn't have to try to define and enforce religious convictions. Also, NY state legislators are dealing with different population issues and concerns (overall) and I'm sure the number and size of the cities in the state influences their attempt to "keep a lid" on exemptions. I live in rural New York, just a few miles from the border of Vermont, and right now my daughter will be attending a few mornings of pre-school in Vermont. When it comes to public school, though, it will be a matter of New York.

Has anyone here used the religious exemption in New York with this form? How challenging was it?

The following quotes are from a March 2006 procedural letter to superintendents of schools from the New York State Education Department.

Quote:
School district officials are charged with the responsibility of determining, on a case-by-case basis, whether a parent/guardian is entitled to invoke the religious exemption from required immunizations. Because of the personal nature of the subject matter and the potential implication of First Amendment rights, school officials must exercise extreme sensitivity and great care when inquiring into the nature of a parent’s/guardian’s beliefs.
Quote:
As required by regulation, in order to obtain a religious exemption to immunization for a child, a parent/guardian must submit a written and signed statement stating his or her religious objection to immunization. On the Parent/Guardian Statement Form, the elements listed for inclusion in the written statement are intended to assist the parent/guardian in providing a statement that clearly and completely articulates the sincere and genuine religious beliefs which prohibit the immunization of his or her child.

If the parent/guardian follows the instructions on the form, most requests will be able to be implemented based solely on the basis of the written statement. The supporting documents suggestion is intended only as an illustrative, not inclusive, list and any supporting documents should be requested only when questions remain about the existence of a sincerely held religious belief based on review of the parental/guardian statement.
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Old 08-20-2006, 05:02 PM
 
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Originally Posted by AmyC
Has anyone here used the religious exemption in New York with this form? How challenging was it?
These are fairly new guidelines and since it's not a requirement, we haven't really heard too much about positive/negative experiences using the guidelines yet - on the board and from NY anti-vax advocacy groups.

Many schools/school districts in NY do not request an explanation of beliefs. Regardless, it's wiser to offer up a brief explanation in your letter rather than ultimately having your exemption challenged later . . . it's happened. There have been many instances where the DOH does an audit and previously acceptable religious exemptions by the school have been kicked back by the DOH asking for an explanation.

Here is a thread from earlier this year discussing the new guidelines: http://www.mothering.com/discussions...d.php?t=433614
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Old 08-20-2006, 06:32 PM
 
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Really? My school just gave us the Exemption form and I filled in our names and signed it. No explanation or name of religion or anything. The form I signed doesn't look like your link at all.
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Old 08-20-2006, 06:46 PM
 
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Originally Posted by LizD
Really? My school just gave us the Exemption form and I filled in our names and signed it. No explanation or name of religion or anything. The form I signed doesn't look like your link at all.
My son's nursery school has a religious exemption portion right on the state-generated health form (just sign and date): http://www.ocfs.state.ny.us/main/For...Day%20Care.pdf

A letter was necessary for my son's grammar school though.

Whether or not an explanation is necessary is up to the school. However, as is evident by the state guidelines, an explanation is "encouraged." There are some school districts which require lengthy questionnaires.
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Old 08-20-2006, 08:18 PM
 
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a woman at MIL's church just got a religious exemption for the local public school (in ny) a little over a month ago. i printed off a bunch of stuff found on the vax boards (including the new forms and the thread it was discussed in a few months ago). the woman explained her religious beliefs in the letter, but i dont think she mentioned her religion. when she went to register her dd for kindergarden, i think the secretary looked at her funny, but gave the info to a guy (the superintendent?) and he approved it right away, no questions asked.
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Old 08-20-2006, 08:40 PM
 
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Originally Posted by xmysticprincessx
but i dont think she mentioned her religion.
Even if she did mention her religion, it would have no bearing on her ability to obtain an exemption. It was actually a lawsuit brought in NY which set the precendent for other states and that same lawsuit caused the "recognized religion" language to be removed from NYS public health law.

You could put the "Church of the Flip Flop Wearing" on the form and it wouldn't matter.
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Old 08-20-2006, 09:28 PM
 
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hmm, so far as I was aware it was a violation of civil rights to ask for religion/specifics?? I mean if you refuse to give reasons, what can they do?
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Old 08-20-2006, 09:45 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by arlecchina
hmm, so far as I was aware it was a violation of civil rights to ask for religion/specifics?? I mean if you refuse to give reasons, what can they do?
It is not against the law for the school to inquire about your religious denomination or about your religious beliefs. It becomes unconstitutional when those inquiries are used in order to discriminate.

NY law states a parent's beliefs must be genuine and sincere. A judge ruled that districts may "reasonably inquire" as to the sincerity of those beliefs.

If a NY parent explains their religious beliefs and the beliefs are actually philosophical, then an exemption may be denied. If a parent in NY explains to the school that they oppose aborted fetal cells and want to exempt their child from the MMR requirement, their exemption will be denied because you must be opposed to the "practice" of immunization. If a parent states that vaccines are harmful and dangerous, their exemption will almost definitely be denied.

Because of the language in the law and the judge's ruling on "reasonable" inquiries, the "Genuine and Sincere Police" are then able to weed out those parents who do not hold genuine and sincere beliefs contrary to the practice of immunization. If you refuse to answer their questions, your exemption may be denied. It's happened quite often in NY and the Commissioner of Education and the courts will rule in favor of the school.

It is not against the law for them to inquire. This is why it's important for NY parents to know the law and what to write . . . and what not to write.
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Old 08-20-2006, 11:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LongIsland
If a NY parent explains their religious beliefs and the beliefs are actually philosophical, then an exemption may be denied. If a parent in NY explains to the school that they oppose aborted fetal cells and want to exempt their child from the MMR requirement, their exemption will be denied because you must be opposed to the "practice" of immunization. If a parent states that vaccines are harmful and dangerous, their exemption will almost definitely be denied.

Because of the language in the law and the judge's ruling on "reasonable" inquiries, the "Genuine and Sincere Police" are then able to weed out those parents who do not hold genuine and sincere beliefs contrary to the practice of immunization. If you refuse to answer their questions, your exemption may be denied. It's happened quite often in NY and the Commissioner of Education and the courts will rule in favor of the school.

It is not against the law for them to inquire. This is why it's important for NY parents to know the law and what to write . . . and what not to write.
Wow, so none of those reasons qualify as evidence of religious beliefs against the practice of immunization? It's not that one objects or believes it's wrong because it's harmful, but that one must believe it's "wrong" to introduce a foreign substance into the body? Is it not considered a religious objection to the practice of immunization if a parent cites aborted fetal cells as a religious conflict? (Or is that reasoning problematic only if the parent cites this reason for getting out of certain vaxes, but does not object to all vaccinations?)

In VT, I have the philosophical exemption, which is the most intuitive to me. I haven't really thought about religious exemptions before. But today I saw a list of "religious reasons" in the exemption pages on vaclib.org Apart from being really cumbersome and (hopefully) more detailed than necessary for an exemption letter, are they actually not to the point of establishing (as the law requires) religious beliefs opposed to the practice of vaccination? [The 'reasons' are along the lines of establishing that vaccines are made with toxic chemicals (impurities) and the conflict is that "man is made in God’s image and the injection of toxic chemicals and foreign proteins into the bloodstream is a violation of God’s directive to keep the body/temple holy and free from impurities." Then they cite "Thou shalt not kill" and mention a conflict with vaccine products containing aborted fetal tissue, and go on to mention specific vaccines.] So it does pinpoint particular issues with specific vaccines, which is problematic (both because the state is all or nothing, and because the objection needs to be with the practice itself. Yes?)

Thanks for the link to the earlier thread discussing guidelines. Are there other threads that have discussed "what to write, and what not to write" as far as New York parents are concerned?
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Old 08-20-2006, 11:35 PM
 
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Below are some decisions that every NY parent should read. These exemptions were denied, then the parents appealed to the Commissioner of Education (not sure if they later sued in court though):

2005 (parent refused to explain their religious beliefs): http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisio...e44/d15217.htm

2002 (parents beliefs not religious): http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisio...e41/d14724.htm

1995 (ruling that parents beliefs were sincere, but not religious):
http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisio...e34/d13392.htm
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Old 08-21-2006, 12:00 AM
 
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I'm upstate and my kids attend public school. I wrote a carefully worded (thank you, LI and theatremum!) letter of religious objection to the practice of vaccination. It had to be approved by the school board and the district superintendent.

Every baptized Christian is, or should be, someone with an actual (disturbing) experience, ... a close encounter, with God; someone who, as a result, becomes a disturbing presence to others. - Fr. Anthony J. Gittins, A Presence That Disturbs
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Old 08-21-2006, 12:28 AM
 
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Don't think for a minute its ALL cut and dry in NY and you won't have problems. I have already encountered problems with HeadStart, which is located in one of the elementary buildings of the local school. My dd didn't end up going to headstart for other reasons, but I'll have to file a new exemption with the new format in the Spring for kindergarten.

One of the cases LI posted is from the school district I plan on sending my dd too. Do I expect a fight-absolutely! There is alot of politics here as well.

Going back to what I already experienced...

When I gave them my first exemption, I was mailed a questionaire to fill out. Examples:

names and address of dentists and health providers
summarize which specific genuine and sincere religious beliefs prohibit immunization and source
Does your spouse share these beliefs?
Has your child ever been immunized or given other medical treatments/If so, describe all such occurrences, including where and when the occurrence took place
If you have other children, have any of them ever been immunized or
received other medical treatments?
If so, describe all such occurrences, including name of child, date,
place of occurrence?

What medications have you given your child in the last five years?

Can we say Baiting??!!

Now look at this..

http://www.counsel.nysed.gov/Decisio...e45/d15243.htm

As LI said, you have to know what you might be up against and be strong in your conviction and be prepared to fight if you have to. My fight hasn't even begun yet but I know what to expect and I will be prepared:
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Old 10-11-2006, 12:32 AM
 
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