Joseph O’Neill says that giving his 9-year old daughter, named Lilith, the varicella vaccine for chickenpox, is against his religion. O’Neill says that his religion, Norse pagan, forbids giving his daughter the specific vaccine because he says it is not protecting from a life-threatening illness. He says that Lilith does have other vaccines, but only the ones he says to protect against illnesses which pose a threat to life.
According to Democrat and Council:
“If it’s a matter of life or death, then yeah,” O’Neill said. “But chickenpox? When’s the last time you heard of someone dying of chickenpox?”
Chickenpox is rare today. But when O’Neill was a kid, there were 4 million cases in the United States a year, and only about 100 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
He said his religion calls for natural remedies to illness when possible. Because so few people die of chickenpox, he said, a vaccine for it runs contrary to his religious beliefs.
“The school district is denying my daughter an education based on our religious beliefs,” O’Neill said.
Here’s the thing, New York does allow for religious exemptions. And Lilith does have all other required immunizations in this case. When the school discovered Lilith was without the varicella vaccine, they demanded that O’Neill either get an exemption or get the vaccine. But now a district lawyer is claiming that O’Neill’s attempt at a religious exemption isn’t applicable.
“I have reviewed your request and have determined that it is insufficient to demonstrate that you have sincere and genuine religious beliefs which would support a religious exemption from immunization,” the lawyer wrote him in a letter dated Nov. 10.
Six days later, Lilith was kicked out of school. O’Neill has homeschooled her ever since.
“Who is the school system to say that my beliefs aren’t sincere?” O’Neill asked.
RCSD spokesman Don Starver denied that the district lawyer judged O’Neill’s religion.
“He never said what his religion was, or why his religion opposes (the vaccine),” Starver said. “All you have to do is explain to us what the religion is and what your objection is. … The criterion is pretty loose.”
It would appear that New York is attempting to skirt its very laws. New York is likely to push harder to remove the religious exemption so long as these exemption cases continue to rise.
Photo by RLHyde