A religious exemption to mandated vaccination requirements for entry into K-12 public and private schools is explicitly provided for in Section 5 (a) of Florida Statute 1003.22 (formerly Section 3 (a) of Chapter 232.032):
(5) The provisions of this section shall not apply if: (a) The parent or guardian of the child objects in writing that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with his or her religious tenets or practices
The language of this statute has traditionally been interpreted by public health officials, school administrators and doctors to mean (a) parents may request a religious exemption from vaccine requirements only if they provide administrative proof that articulates the specific religious tenet or practice which conflicts with the administration of immunizing agents; and (b) the exemption may be denied if the request is determined by the state to be invalid or the belief insincere.
In 1998 (Board of Health vs. Curry), however, the Florida Supreme Court determined that this interpretation by the state and its agents is unlawful and discriminatory.
Specifically, the Court emphasized that the Department of Health is prohibited from questioning the validity of a parent’s religious objection and that any attempt to investigate a request for exemption clearly exceeds statutory authority. Furthermore, the Court declared that government is not qualified to judge religious beliefs because it possesses no expertise with regard to such matters.
In response to the Court’s clarification, the assistant State Health Officer sent a directive on September 6, 1999 to all county health department directors/administrators stating: The First District Court of Appeals recently ruled that the department could no longer ask parents for written justification for religious exemption from immunization as outlined in the June 23, 1993 “Guidelines for HRS County Public Health Units to Follow in Issuing Religious Exemptions”. This means that county health department employees can no longer ask parents to elaborate or define their religious objections to immunization. If a parent requests such an exemption, the provider must use the revised Form DH 681 (5/99) signed by the parent, affirming the written statement on the form that a religious conflict exists. No other information should be requested or solicited from the parent or guardian.
Thus, all county health department directors have been directed by the Bureau of Immunization to comply with the statutory language of this mandate.
Despite this directive, there are public health officials who continue to deny religious exemption or who attempt to make the exemption process more difficult through intimidation and/or unnecessary administrative details. Meanwhile, the public is either misinformed or not informed about the religious exemption process.
The information provided in this book is designed to help people better understand their statutory and constitutional rights in regards to religious exemption issues.
“The role of the government is to inform, educate, recommend, and even provide incentives for immunization, but not to mandate without exclusion acceptance among the civilian population. Informed refusal must remain an acceptable choice in a free democracy, and the culture of informed consent, with both religious and philosophical exemption, must be maintained.”
Gregory A. Poland, MD
Mayo Vaccine Research Group
“Vaccine Safety: Injecting a Dose of Common Sense”
Mayo Clinic Proc. 2000;75:135-139