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NM v. Hebrew Academy Long Beach
United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York
155 F. Supp. 3d 247 (2016)
A devout Orthodox Jewish mother (plaintiff) raised her two school-aged children (plaintiffs) in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. The children attended the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach (HALB) (defendant) for five years without being vaccinated. The terms of New York’s Public Health Law (PHL) required school-aged children to be immunized against certain communicable diseases in order to attend classes but expressly allowed a religious exemption for children whose parents held genuine and sincere religious beliefs contrary to the practice of vaccination. The mother applied for religious exemptions for her children, which were granted twice but then were reevaluated by HALB due to parental concerns about a measles outbreak in California. HALB began strictly enforcing PHL and scrutinized parents’ reasons for seeking religious exemptions for their children. The mother and father attended a HALB committee meeting with the executive director and a pediatrician whose children attended the school. The committee members believed that the mother’s reasons for not vaccinating her children were health-related, rather than based on sincere, religious convictions. No evidence was presented that Orthodox Judaism forbade vaccination. HALB’s executive director sent the mother a letter rejecting her application for religious exemptions and a letter advising her that the children were no longer allowed to attend the school. The mother commenced an action on behalf of herself and her children against HALB to challenge the constitutionality of PHL’s vaccination mandate and religious exemption. The mother alleged that HALB violated PHL by rejecting her claimed religious exemption from mandatory vaccination based on her beliefs as a devout Orthodox Jew. The mother moved for a preliminary injunction forcing HALB to allow the unvaccinated children to return to school.
Rule of Law
Holding and Reasoning (Spatt, J.)
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