New York Decides Religion Is Not A Good Enough Reason To Spread Measles
Once upon a time, in the year 2000, the CDC declared measles "eliminated" — thanks to vaccines. Of course, that was seven whole years before the the former co-host of MTV's Singled Out decided to start going around telling everyone that those same vaccines caused her kid's autism. Since then, we've had more than a few measles outbreaks, but this year has been the worst so far. In the United States this year, there have been over 1,000 confirmed cases, more than half of them in New York alone.
Many of these cases have been concentrated in Orthodox Jewish communities, where the issue is not so much "autism," but rather the belief that vaccines violate Jewish law in some capacity. This belief is disputed by the Rabbinical Council of America and the Orthodox Union, both of which strongly encourage parents to get their kids vaccinated. Of course, there are also a lot of people who only pretend to have "sincere religious objections" but in fact just believe in the ridiculous autism conspiracy theories.
In response to this outbreak, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill yesterday eliminating religious exemptions for vaccines.
The State Senate, where the vote was assured because of solid support in a Democratic majority, approved the bill, 36-26. Mr. Cuomo, a three-term Democrat, signed the legislation moments after it passed the Senate, saying that vaccines "are safe, effective and the best way to keep our children safe."
"While I understand and respect freedom of religion, our first job is to protect the public health," Mr. Cuomo said in a statement, adding that the new law "will help prevent further transmissions and stop this outbreak right in its tracks."
Obviously! And good for him! We'd all like to have sympathy for people who want to believe stupid shit, but when believing stupid shit puts people and children in danger, a choice has to be made. We'd all like to have sympathy for parents who are scared and who truly do believe that not giving their kids a vaccine is the safest thing for them, but that's just not a good enough reason to have kids going around and getting measles.
The signing of the bill, naturally, came to the dismay of those who consider it their "First Amendment right" to decide whether or not they want their children to have them.
Assemblyman Michael Montesano, a Long Island Republican, framed the bill as "an attack on people's First Amendment rights." He added, "It's still the individual parent, who is raising this child, that has the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life."
This would be all well and good if it were, indeed, anyone's First Amendment right to harm their own children or to put other people in danger. It is not. It is not legal to abuse or molest your children as part of your religion. It is not legal to kill your children or to poison the town's water supply because you believe God told you to do so. If you do any of those things, regardless of your motivation, you will go to jail—or at the very least, to a psych ward. Warren Jeffs is currently in prison because he decided that marrying young girls off to old men was part of his religion. And he may have even "sincerely held" those beliefs!
People do not have "the fundamental right to decide what happens with their child in all facets of their life." That is not a thing. If that were a thing, Child Protective Services would not exist.
Outbreaks aside, this is not the kind of decision a parent has any business making for their kids to begin with. It's one thing if you are an adult and you are making your own healthcare decisions in your own life based on your religion. Do all the faith-healing you like! Drink some poisoned Flavor-Aid if that is your jam! (Please don't do that.) Stick crystals all over your body! Knock yourself out! But a child at the age one most often gets the MMR vaccine is not old enough or informed enough to commit to a religion in that way. That is a major commitment. What if your kid grows up and decides they don't want to practice your religion anymore? Then they got measles or risked getting measles for nothing!
And that just feels rude. Making your kids go to CCD or Hebrew School or whatever is one thing. Putting them in danger of getting a contagious disease is another, and putting other people's immunocompromised kids in danger of getting a contagious disease is absolutely ridiculous and actively cruel.
So far, only New York, California, Arizona, West Virginia, Mississippi, and Maine have eliminated religious exemptions for vaccines. More need to step up to the plate, because there is just no damn reason for this.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse