Bill would end religious exemptions for childhood immunizations

Bill would end religious exemptions for childhood immunizations

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Should parents in North Carolina be exempt from required childhood immunizations because of their religious beliefs?

Currently that is the case, but some lawmakers want the religious exemption dropped because they say it is not being used appropriately and that it is putting children's health at risk.

Senator Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius representing District 41, introduced his proposal on Thursday in Raleigh.

Senate Bill 346, filed today, also adds two new vaccinations, one for Influenza B and one for Polio, along with the measure that would take away the religious exemption.

"It's becoming a problem," Tarte said.

The problem with the religious exemption, Tarte said, is that there is no validation for the claim other than the individual making it, and he says that is allowing a lot of people to opt out.

"From a religion perspective," Tarte said, "there is no major religion that is against immunizations."

Tarte added that the only religious organizations he could find with a specific prohibition against immunizations are Christian Scientists and the Taliban.

Christian Science spokesperson Cynthia Barnett says Tarte's statement is untrue.

"This may still be a common misconception, but in fact our church has no such 'policy,'" Barnett said. "Further, it does not tell its members what to do in any health care decisions, respecting the individual's right to make these."

Christian Science founder Mary Baker Eddy added, "Rather than quarrel over vaccination, I recommend, if the law demand, that an individual submit to this process, that he obey the law, and then appeal to the gospel to save him from bad physical results."

"The intent is not to violate the First Amendment," Tarte said, "But public health is imperative. Your rights stop at the point you start infringing on everyone else's rights."

It does remain a controversial issue, and there are many parents in North Carolina who oppose the mandatory vaccinations.

"If you tell me I have to vaccinate my child, what else can you tell me to do? That's kind of an inherent strain of thought within American political beliefs," said Catawba College Provost and political scientist Dr. Michael Bitzer. "That has this kind of strong religious exemption status, belief, even though they couldn't ideally point out "this is where the Bible tells us not to vaccinate."

"I think it's the kind of overlaid government 'stay out of my business and I will use this call of religious exemption' to justify it," Bitzer added.

Tarte said on Thursday that the new measure is not about creating new rules, but allowing the state to "follow good rules and adopt best practices."

There will be more study and research done as the process pushing the bill moves forward, Tarte added.

Buncombe County has the state's highest rate of religious exemptions. More than 4.5 percent of students enrolling in its schools aren't vaccinated.

"We're starting to see cases of diseases we thought we had eradicated," like whooping cough," co sponsor Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe County, said. "These diseases are not a thing of the past."

West Virginia and Mississippi recently did away with the religious exemptions for childhood immunizations.

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