Thousands descended on Trenton, New Jersey Monday in response to New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney’s (D-Gloucester) vow to pass S2173 that would have ended New Jersey parents' ability to avoid vaccinating their children based on religious beliefs. Failure to pass the bill means lawmakers must start over in the next legislative session that begins Tuesday.
Months of organizing a national movement culminated in protesters flooding the chamber and cheering when the Senate session ended without a vote.
The legislation as initially written would have ended a religious exemption to vaccine requirements for children attending any school in the state, but lawmakers amended the bill last week to allow exemptions for pupils at private schools and for siblings of children who had vaccine-related injuries.
Sweeney said the lawmakers would reintroduce the bill Tuesday and restart the entire process, threatening “We’re ready to go to war with this.”
In years past, most states, including New York and New Jersey, granted parents the legal right to opt out of mandatory vaccination for their school aged children by submitting a religious exemption letter to their schools. Jewish schools accepted these letters in lieu of immunization records. This satisfied government agencies, such as local health and education departments, and the small minority of unvaccinated students remained unobtrusive.
Many Jewish communities have been terribly challenged by the issue of vaccination. The vaccination controversy entered the Jewish public’s notice in the fall of 2018 when the measles hit Monsey, Brooklyn, Lakewood, Passaic, and other Orthodox population centers. Legislation in New York State removed parents’ right to claim a religious exemption. New York schools were forced to identify and expel unvaccinated students. Many New Jersey schools began to do so voluntarily.
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However, Orthodox Jewish voices were prominent at New Jersey's protest, with bill opponents arriving by bus from Brooklyn, Monsey, Lakewood, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, reporting that gentiles repeatedly thanked them for their solidarity, happy to see Jewish opposition to repealing the religious exemption, explaining that they had previously not heard outcry from Jewish communities.
A publication produced by students of Rabbis Shmuel Kamenetzky, Elya Ber Wachtfogel, and Malkiel Kotler make their views on vaccination known, writing that "Their view is not extreme. They do not advocate against vaccination. They rule that vaccination is a parental choice, and that parents may not be coerced into vaccination." The document can be viewed here.
They also state that parents who choose not to vaccinate should be viewed as parents exercising a right and making a justifiable decision, not as agitators recklessly endangering the public welfare.
The publication refutes the assertions that all Gedolim (Torah sages) obligate parents to vaccinate, and that non-vaccinating parents are "pursuers" and "murderers".
"Non-vaccinating parents in our communities are acting with the full consent of da’as Torah, yet they are being maligned and vilified, and, in countless cases, victimized and hurt. The unity and peace within our communities and families is being gravely damaged; the above unfounded and untrue assertions have had much to do with it."
World Health Organization discusses need for vaccine safety studies: