Check ex rel. MC v. N.Y. City Dept. of Educ., 2013 WL 2181045 (E.D.N.Y May 20, 2013)

In May 2013, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York determined that a five-year-old girl was not entitled to a religious exemption for an immunization vaccine based on her mother’s aversion to the toxic chemicals used in vaccines. [1]

Dina Check, the plaintiff, applied for a preliminary injunction to require the New York City Department of Education, the defendant, to admit her five-year-old daughter to school without the statutorily mandated vaccinations. [2] The New York State Public Health Law, §2164, requires that all students be immunized before attending “any public, private, or parochial child care center, day nursery, day care agency, nursery school, kindergarten, elementary, intermediate or secondary school.” [3] The law does provide an exemption for students whose parents object on religious grounds. The courts have generally required that the plaintiff show that his or her beliefs are (1) religious, (2) genuine, and (3) sincere. [4]

Ms. Check had to demonstrate “(1) irreparable harm and (2) either (a) likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly toward the party requesting preliminary relief.” [5]  Ms. Check objected only to a portion of Judge Bloom’s report and recommendation, in which the Judge concluded that the plaintiff failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. [6]

Ms. Check disputed the conclusion that she failed to establish that she was seeking exemption on behalf of her child “on the basis of religious beliefs.” [7] Ms. Check asserted that her medical concerns about the vaccines were irrelevant as to whether her religious beliefs warranted an exemption. [8] The District Court agreed with the trial Judge’s memorandum that in light of the plaintiff’s medical concerns, her refusal to vaccinate her child was based on her personal fear for her child’s well-being and not a religious belief. [9] The Court referenced the plaintiff’s description of the harmful medical effects that she believed the vaccines had on her daughter. [10]

The Court explained that a plaintiff may be entitled to a religious exemption based partially on his or her religious beliefs, but, in this case, Ms. Check’s testimony emphasized her aversion based on health concerns, not her religious convictions. [11] The Court reasoned that not every belief held by a religious person is a religious belief. [12] The District Court held that Ms. Check’s five-year-old was not entitled to a religious exemption and, therefore, denied her application for preliminary injunction. [13]

References

[1] Check ex rel. MC v. N.Y City Dept. of Educ., 2013 WL 2181045 at *1 (E.D.N.Y May 20, 2013).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. at *3.

[5] Id. at *2.

[6] Id. at *4.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id. at *5.

[11] Id. at *9.

[12] Id. at *8.

[13] Id. at *10.