The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has upheld a decision of the U.S. District Court of Connecticut which dismissed a challenge to Connecticut’s April 2021 repeal of the religious exemption to mandatory childhood immunization for school attendance. In a split 2-1 decision issued Friday morning, the three-judge panel decided that the repeal did not violate the plaintiffs’ free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, or their Equal Protection of the law guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, among other things. The Court did find that the district court improperly dismissed one plaintiff’s claim under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), ruling that the lower court “erred when it found [plaintiff] Elidrissi had not stated a plausible claim for relief under the IDEA.”
Judge Joseph Bianco, in his dissent from the majority’s opinion, noted that the state failed to meet its burden of proving that the repeal of the religious exemption was necessary to protect public health, or that it was done by the least restrictive means available, both of which would be necessary to prove under strict scrutiny analysis, which he argued should apply here: “Not only is the majority opinion’s holding incorrect at this stage given the factual allegations in this case, but its analysis also has troubling implications for the future of the Free Exercise Clause as it relates to all types of vaccination requirements for students and other members of the public, including for COVID19. In other words, under the majority opinion’s analysis, a state or other governmental entity could expand mandatory vaccination requirements and simultaneously eliminate religious exemptions (while maintaining broad medical exemptions) and easily satisfy the low constitutional bar of rational basis review by invoking generalized concerns about public health and safety.”
Connecticut Attorney General William Tong released a statement on Friday, praising the ruling. “This decision is a full and resounding affirmation of the constitutionality and legality of Connecticut’s vaccine requirements,” Tong said, and went on to add that “the legislature acted responsibly and well within its authority to protect the health of Connecticut families and stop the spread of preventable disease.”
The lead plaintiff in the case, We The Patriots USA, also released a statement late Friday: “Today’s decision represents a victory for special needs children in Connecticut, as the Court correctly recognized that Plaintiff Elidrissi’s son is a child entitled to protections under the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA), and reversed the district court’s refusal to address her IDEA claims. We are hopeful that the district court will find that special needs children cannot be excluded from receiving a free and appropriate education under the IDEA simply for opposing vaccinations on the basis of religious belief.
However, we respectfully disagree with the Court’s conclusion that the removal of the religious exemption in Connecticut does not infringe upon the free exercise of religion under the First Amendment, or the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, among other things. We fully intend to seek review of this decision in the United States Supreme Court, to obtain equal justice for all children – not only in Connecticut, but in every state in the nation.
Attorney General Tong’s assessment of the case is clearly inaccurate and reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the rights embodied in the First Amendment. We are confident that we will prevail on appeal to the Supreme Court, and that this dark period of religious discrimination in this country will finally come to a close.”
We The Patriots USA is seeking donations to support its work in this case and all of the other work it does in defense of religious and medical freedom at https://wethepatriotsusa.org/donate/.