Frequently Asked Questions About Religious Exemption
Q: What is a religious exemption?
A religious exemption for vaccination is a written form certifying that the parent's objection to immunization for religious reasons exempts the parent and child from state vaccination requirements. It is only necessary for use in Florida Public and private schools for kindergarten through grade 12.
A religious exemption is for anyone who has a sincere religious conflict with vaccination. A religious objection may be expressly implied by religious denomination or it may be based on an individual's own moral/spiritual conscience to live God's Word.
Q: What constitutes a religious conflict with vaccination?
All vaccines are made in violation of God's Word. Vaccines are made with toxic chemicals that are injected into the bloodstream by vaccination. All vaccines are made with foreign proteins (viruses and bacteria), and some vaccines are made with genetically engineered viral and bacterial materials.
A conflict arises if you believe that man is made in God's image and the injection of toxic chemicals and foreign proteins into the bloodstream is a violation of God's directive to keep the body/temple holy and free from impurities.
A conflict arises if you accept God's warning not to mix the blood of man with the blood of animals. Many vaccines are produced in animal tissues.
A conflict arises if your religious convictions are predicated on the belief that all life is sacred. God's commandment "Thou Shall Not Kill" applies to the practice of abortion. When you believe that the practice of abortion should not be encouraged or supported in any way, a conflict arises with the use of vaccines produced in aborted fetal tissue even though you did not have any other connection with the abortions from which the vaccines are derived.
Q: What religions qualify for religious exemption?
The statutory language for Florida vaccine policy clearly states that religious exemption must be granted without question if vaccination conflicts with a person's religious convictions. A religious objection may be expressly implied by religious denomination or it may be based on an individual's own moral/spiritual conscience to live God's Word.
Agents acting on behalf of the state in vaccination matters are prohibited from requesting ANY administrative proof that explains the recipient's religious belief or that proves membership in an "acceptable" or specific religion. The state may NOT discriminate between religious denominations and may NOT make judgments regarding religious convictions.
Q: What specific scriptural teachings form the basis for religious objection to the practice of vaccination?
The New Testament epistles provide an exposition of Christian teaching regarding ethical behavior. Christians think of life as a gift of God and the body as a marvelous work of divine creation to be reverenced as a temple of God (I Corinthians 3:16, 6:19). To keep the body/temple holy and clean from blemish, scripture warns against defiling the body. (I Corinthians 3:17, 2 Corinthians 7:1).
There is no scriptural support for injecting poisons or any virus into the bloodstream to cure or prevent disease. The Old and New Testaments, however, are replete with references to keeping the body blemish-free so that we may have abundant life.
Q: Where can I obtain a religious exemption from vaccination?
A religious exemption from vaccination must be obtained from a county health department. Religious exemption is not authorized or issued by schools or physicians.
Every county health department issues a standardized approved religious exemption form (DH 681) that includes the following written statement from the parent or legal guardian:
Q: Is the religious exemption process the same in every Florida county?
Whether you live in Manatee County, Palm Beach County, or St. Johns County, the procedure for getting a religious exemption from vaccination is the same.
The Florida statute regarding either proof of vaccination or authorized exemption for entry into school (FS 1003.22) is a state-wide requirement that applies to all students enrolled in all Florida public and private K-12 schools. All county health departments are obliged to authorize a religious exemption when requested. Therefore, your request for religious exemption can be provided by any county health department.
Q: Is it necessary to schedule an appointment in advance with the county health director to obtain a religious exemption?
You may want to call your county health department and inquire as to the procedures for obtaining a religious exemption. It is not necessary to provide detailed information about your request at that time (your name or your child's name). Be sure to ask for the specific address of the office that authorizes religious exemptions as well as the name of the director or authorized agent who will be signing the form and the hours of operation. Some counties have more than one office location, so you will need to know which office issues authorized religious exemptions.
Because authorization of religious exemption is simply a matter of having the religious exemption certificate (DH 681) signed by the director, it should be only necessary to have an advance appointment if there is some reason an authorized agent is not available each day of operation for signature.
If the county's procedures include requirements for counseling and/or waiting periods after the request is made and before the certificate is issued, ask where the statutory authority for requesting additional administrative details or imposing this additional burden on you comes from. This information is important for understanding how this county is attempting to circumvent the statutory limitations of this mandate.
Whether you make an appointment or request an exemption on demand by walk-in, know that all county health departments have been directed by the Bureau of Immunization to issue a religious exemption when requested. The provisions of the statute must be uniformly applied by all agents acting on behalf of the state. Officials may not discriminate against religious beliefs.
Q: What information do I need to provide the county health department when I request a religious exemption?
Florida law provides that you are entitled to a religious exemption. When requesting a religious exemption, it is NOT necessary to provide any administrative evidence that proves your religious beliefs. Any agent acting on behalf of the state in compliance with vaccine mandates may not ask for religious documentation, letters from religious leaders, or church membership. It is also not necessary to discuss any other particulars regarding your beliefs or your child's health history.
The standardized approved religious exemption form (DH 681) requires only your child’s name and birth date, the requesting parent or legal guardian's name, the date of authorization, and the signatures of the county director and the parent/guardian. The social security number of the child is optional, but not required. You need only provide valid identification.
Q: Can I get an exemption from some vaccines?
The vaccine dilemma applies to both the decision of whether to vaccinate or not, as well as to the decision to vaccinate with only specific vaccines.
On the first question, one could desire never to vaccinate based entirely on religious grounds or based on a belief that all vaccination is inherently dangerous because (1) all vaccines are toxic, (2) the theory that vaccinations improves immune function is flawed, and (3) injecting harmful substances, including attenuated diseases, into the blood stream is ethically immoral.
Similarly, there are both religious and non-religious reasons for deciding the second question. The theory that vaccination improves immune function need not be disputed to conclude that there are unacceptably high known risks, including death, associated with certain vaccinations (though reasons for those risks is not generally understood). Likewise, some vaccines are inherently more dangerous than others. Also, the risk for getting some diseases is less than the immunological risks associated with the vaccine for that disease. For that reason, a parent may desire to vaccinate for only the diseases with which a child is likely to be infected or feared to be infected. If your religious objection concerns use of vaccines developed from aborted fetuses, you may desire to never use those vaccines while having no objection to other vaccines.
If you believe that some vaccines are not objectionable and con be useful, then you should have the right to decide on one, some or all vaccines, and you should be able to determine when to have them administered. Ethics in medicine generally requires informed consent for all medical procedures, including vaccination. Public health law undercuts that ethical standard by purporting to eliminate informed consent for parents of children enrolled in K-12 public and private schools, childcare, daycare or other preschools.
Because vaccine policy adheres to one-size-fits-all full vaccination schedules determined by public health officials, you are not free to decide optimal timing for vaccinations or pick and choose which vaccines to utilize. You are not free to choose to withhold vaccination in the event that your child is not fully healthy before the deadline for compliance, and you may not claim to know whether your child is at risk for immunological consequences when your doctor or pediatrician says otherwise.
Florida’s vaccine policy seems to demands that you choose either all vaccinations or none, regardless of individual circumstances or health history. Unless a doctor has a reason to authorize a medical exemption, your only options with current vaccine policy are to (1) comply with accepted vaccine standards and all mandates, or (2) have religious objections to vaccination because partial exemptions and exemptions for personal or philosophical reasons are not permitted in Florida.
If you realize that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with your religious belief after some vaccines have been administered, you are entitled to a religious exemption from vaccination.
Q: What should I say if the health department asks me if my child has had any vaccines?
Unless you submitted a completed Opt Out Form (DH 1478) to the Department of Health, your child's vaccine history may already be automatically tracked in the Florida SHOTS computer vaccine registry system. Since January 2003, every child born in a Florida hospital is automatically registered into this database (the information is forwarded to the system by Vital Statistics). If your child has a record in Florida SHOTS, his/her vaccine information is readily available for review by health officials, school administrators, doctors and nurses who have been approved for access.
If your child was born before January 1, 2003, he/she may or may not have a record in the vaccine registry. You may find out if your child has a record in the Florida SHOTS database system by calling the Bureau of Immunization at 877-888-7468.
It is not necessary to discuss any particulars regarding your religious beliefs or your child's health history. Vaccine history is not relevant to the fact that vaccination conflicts with your religious beliefs, and your request for a religious exemption cannot be denied.
Having vaccine history is not an indication that your religious conflict with vaccination is less sincere than if your child has had no vaccines.
Agents of the state authorized by mandate to implement vaccine policy are prohibited from questioning the validity of a parent's religious objection. Please be aware that the Florida Supreme Court emphasized in Board of Health vs. Curry (1998) that any attempt to investigate a request for exemption clearly exceeds statutory authority.
If you are asked by county health department personnel whether your child has had any vaccines and/or if other comments about your child's vaccine history are expressed with respect to your request for religious exemption, you may want to:
· ask the reason this information is being requested;
· mention that the Florida Supreme Court has ruled that any attempt to investigate your request for religious exemption exceeds their statutory authority;
· remind the department official that vaccine history may not be used to deny a religious exemption.
Q: What is Florida SHOTS?
Florida SHOTS (State Health Online Tracking System) is the Department of Health Bureau of Immunization statewide, centralized electronic vaccination registry for storing shot records. This automated tracking system is a provision of Florida law 381.003. Similar vaccine registries are being implemented in all states, as part of a nationwide effort to track vaccine information. Each state has its own separate registry. There currently is no national vaccine registry.
Florida SHOTS is used for updating every child's shot records and for checking to see if a child has all the shots he/she needs. All children born in a Florida hospital on or after January 1, 2003 in Florida have a record in the Florida SHOTS vaccine registry. Students who have been issued a religious exemption are also recorded in the Florida SHOTS vaccine registry.
You should know that all doctors, nurses, schools, and child care centers that have been approved to use the Florida SHOTS database system have access to your child's vaccine data. This registry is used primarily to improve vaccination rates.
Q: What if I do not want my child's vaccine history automatically tracked in this computer database system or I fear that other health and personal information can be compromised?
Florida SHOTS is an "opt out" system. This means that unless you submit the proper documentation to the Department of Health which states that you do not want your child's shot records to be tracked, your child will automatically be tracked without your prior consent.
Many people are not aware of this computerized database system nor are they informed that they have the option to "opt out" of the system.
If you do not want your child's vaccine information to be tracked in the Florida SHOTS vaccine registry, you must complete and submit to the Florida Department of Health a special Opt Out Form DH 1478. This form is available at all county health departments and includes instructions for filing. Q: Will the county health department issue the religious exemption form at the time my request for exemption is made? All county health departments are obliged by law and by directive from the Bureau of Immunization to authorize a religious exemption when requested. Because authorization of religious exemption is simply a matter of having the certificate (DH 681) signed by the county health director or authorized agent, religious exemption can and should be provided immediately upon request.
If your county health department is in compliance with the law and the Bureau of Immunization’s directive, the religious exemption form will be issued to you at the time of your request.
Because all county health departments are obliged to authorize a religious exemption when requested and because the procedure for getting a religious exemption from vaccination is the same for all counties, you may request a religious exemption from another county health department.
Q: When I requested a religious exemption for my child, I was told that my non-vaccinated child’s name would be put on a national registry to prevent my child from ever being allowed a vaccine in the case of an emergency. Is this true?
No. There is no national vaccine registry which tracks the names of children with exemptions. In the state of Florida exemptions are recorded in the Florida SHOTS database so that those children identified as not being vaccinated against a disease for which an emergency has been declared can be temporarily excluded from school until such time as is specified by the county health department or administrator. The information is not used to withhold medical procedures needed in the case of emergency.
Q: Does the Florida vaccination mandate apply to children who are home-schooled?
No. The vaccine statutes do not apply to children who are home-schooled.
Q: What do I have to present to my child’s school if I wish to claim a religious exemption?
Florida Statute 1003.22 Section (4) expressly requires each district school board and the governing authority of each private school to establish and enforce as policy that, prior to admittance to or attendance at a public or nonpublic school, grades kindergarten through 12, each child present or have on file with the school a certification of immunization for the prevention of those communicable diseases for which immunization is required by the Department of Health. This certification is recorded on form D 680, the Florida Certificate of Immunization.
Florida statute 1003.22 Section (5) simply and expressly states that the provisions of the statute shall not apply if the parent of a child objects in writing that the administration of immunizing agents conflicts with his or her religious tenets or practices. The statute does not expressly state that the parent or guardian must present an authorized certificate of religious exemption to the school district or governing authority.
In practice, however, the written statement affirming that a religious conflict exists is provided in standardized language on form DH 681 Religious Exemption from Immunization. This form is provided by all county health departments. It is not provided by the schools.
The Certificate of Immunization (DH 680) provided and signed by the child's physician, details vaccine history and proves up-to-date vaccine compliance and/or indicates medical exemption from vaccination requirements.
The Religious Exemption from Immunization certificate (DH 681) provided and signed by all county health department directors, provides a written testament of the parent's religious objection to vaccination and proves authorization of religious exemption from vaccination requirements.
These two certificates are the official record-keeping documents that each school is required to keep on file in order to be in compliance with Florida statutes 1003.22, 402.305, and 402.313.nbsp; If you have a religious objection to vaccination, you must present a Religious Exemption from Immunization certificate (DH 681) to your child's school prior to admission.
Be sure to make a photocopy of your child's religious exemption certificate for your personal file.
Q: Will my child's school accept my religious exemption certificate if they already have a certificate of immunization on file?
Yes, A school's ONLY role in vaccine compliance is record keeping for the Department of Health.
A school administrator's ONLY authority in the matter of vaccine mandates is to comply with the state's administrative requests, namely to obtain and retain on file certified records for all students proving vaccine compliance, medical or temporary exemption, and/or religious exemption. School administrators have been granted no authority to judge the particulars of your religious beliefs nor can they make any judgments regarding the records they have on file with regards to vaccine matters.
Any agent acting on behalf of the state in vaccine matters, including school administrators, are prohibited from discriminating against your religious beliefs and are obliged to accept your religious exemption from vaccination requirements, even if your child already has a record of immunization on file.
The statutory requirements for forced compliance of vaccination apply only to children admitted to and enrolled in K-12 public or private schools.
Q: Can a preschool or day-care refuse my religious exemption?
No. The vaccination regulations for child care facilities, family day care homes, and preschools are provided for by law in Florida statutes 402.305 and 402.313. As in the case of K-12 public and private schools, the role of child/home care and preschool facilities in vaccine compliance is limited to record keeping. The requirements for proof of vaccination are predicated on the vaccination standards already set forth in Florida statute 1003.22, which provides for a religious exemption.
Day care facilities and other pre-schools act as agents of the state and assume the same record-keeping responsibilities that Florida statute 1003.22 stipulates K-12 public and private schools must satisfy. Thus, day care and pre-schools are bound by the same covenants and provisions of Florida statute 1003.22 as are K-12 public and private schools.
The standardized approved religious exemption form (DH 681) includes the following written statement:
To be in compliance with the requirements of these statutes, agents of the state MAY NOT require additional administrative proof of religious conviction (including name of church affiliation or letters from pastors) and MAY NOT question your religious beliefs, discriminate against religious beliefs or make judgments regarding exemptions.
Q: Can private schools refuse my child's religious exemption or question my sincere religious conflict with vaccination?
No. Private K-12 schools, including parochial schools, may not discriminate against students who have religious exemption certifications. Any argument that a private school is a private business which may establish its own admission rules and is also exempt from religious discrimination laws is directly refuted by the relevant Florida Statutes.
Florida law mandates the parameters of private school vaccination policies and mandates that they be consistent with the public school policies. In relevant part, Florida Statute Section 1003.22 (4) and (5) states:
Further, Section 1002.4 (6), mandates that private school governing authorities require students to present certifications of immunizations in accordance with the provisions of Section 1003.22.
Thus, private schools may not establish their own immunization policies separate and apart from those of the public schools, requiring immunizations not required by the Department of Health, requiring forms different than the Department of Health forms, or defining different criteria for religious exemptions. Private schools must accept the Department of Health’s form DH 681 providing for religious exemption from vaccination requirements in place of the Department of Health’s form DH 680 Certificate of Immunization. Private schools may not make additional requests for administrative proof of religious beliefs.
A private school’s ONLY role in vaccine compliance is record keeping for the Department of Health.
A private school administrators ONLY authority in the matter of vaccine mandates is to comply with the state’s administrative requests, namely to obtain and retain on file certified records for all students proving vaccine compliance and/or religious exemption and annually report compliance to the local health departments. Privates school administrators, even those with expertise on religious doctrines, have no authority to exercise discretion in accepting your religious exemption by considering the particulars of your religious beliefs.
Q: Is my religious exemption valid in other states?
No. The statute governing Florida public and private K-12 school entry requirements does not apply to others states or to post secondary institutions.
Each state has its own specific laws regarding vaccination admission requirements. Your religious exemption applies to enrollment and attendance at Florida public and private K-12 schools, childcare, day care homes and preschools only. It will not be recognized or accepted by schools in another state.
For specific state vaccination requirements and/or information regarding provisions for religious exemption, you may contact the National Vaccine Information Center for referral to their state affiliates for vaccine information. Currently, only two states (West Virginia and Mississippi) do not provide for religious exemption from forced compliance of vaccine requirements.
Q: In the event the public health department declares a public health emergency and issues orders for mass vaccination, will my religious exemption prevent state agents from forcing compliance?
It is not clear.
It may depend upon whether public health officials are operating pursuant to a federal or state declaration of public health emergency. Public health powers over vaccination are different, depending upon the law under which the emergency is declared. The Homeland Security Act signed into law by President George W. Bush, provides for voluntary vaccination in the event of an emergency where mass vaccination would be implemented. Thus, the religious objection is protected.
However, the Florida legislature approved the original more coercive version - of the MSEHPA (Model State Emergency Health Powers Act) and Governor Jeb Bush signed it into law. Florida Statute 381.00315 (1)(b)4, gives an unelected public health official the power to force vaccination in certain circumstances with "any means necessary" (including the use of armed law enforcement officers). Even though the statutory language provides for a quarantine option for those who do not want to be vaccinated for health, religious of conscience reasons, the Florida statue also stipulates that during a Public Health Emergency, an unelected public health official may decide quarantine is not feasible and then force vaccination for communicable diseases with significant morbidity or mortality that also present a severe danger to public health. On its face, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") recognizes greater protection than the United States Constitution for free exercise of religion in the face of government actions to the contrary. However, it is questionable whether during a Public Health Emergency, an individual could practically obtain the judicial relief provided for by FRFRA in time to hold the public health officers and law enforcement officers at bay.
Where federal bioterrorism laws mandate vaccinations for anthrax, smallpox and other biochemical weapons, the statutory language provides that quarantine will be an option for those who did not want to be vaccinated. This is not necessarily true for vaccinations ordered pursuant to law of a few states, including Florida, that passed more coercive model bioterrorism legislation. If a Public Health Emergency is declared under Florida law, an unelected public health official is authorized to use law enforcement officers to force vaccinations for communicable diseases that present severe public health dangers and with significant morbidity or mortality on those with religious objections where their quarantine is not feasible. While the religious liberties protections of Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") appears to trump the Florida’s Emergency Health Powers Act, it may be impractical to obtain timely judicial relief before involuntary vaccination occurs.
On September 2, 2004, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") expands protection for religious freedom. The Court stated: The Florida Supreme Court also held that FRFRA, which became law in 1998, "protects more conduct than conduct that is central to a litigant's religious practices." Under FRFRA, for example a person can have a religious belief to home school even if home schooling is not an express itemized doctrine of the church. The Court said, Thus, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") grants expansive religious rights and the free exercise of religion, even more so than the Constitution.
Q: Are there laws that mandate vaccination for adults?
There is no statute that mandates vaccination for adults, including individuals 18 years of age or older. Informed consent rights apply to adults considering vaccination. All adults have the right to choose or deny vaccines.
Florida statute 1006.69 addresses a requirement for postsecondary institutions to provide students with detailed information about meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B and the associated vaccines; and it requires students to acknowledge receipt and review of this information by providing documentation that shows the student has either declined these vaccines or has been vaccinated with these specific vaccines.
Under OSHA regulations, the hepatitis B vaccine must be made available by employers to all employees with occupational exposure to blood. The employee, however, has the option to decline participation in the vaccination and follow-up programs.
Although many vaccines are now being recommended for adults of all ages, there are no mandates that force compliance. Where access to vaccination is provided by law or recommended by health officials, the provisions include the right to informed consent and the option to decline vaccines.
The standards for adult immunization practices, approved by the National Vaccine Advisory Committee (NVAC), the National Coalition for Adult Immunization (NCAI), the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and the US Public Health Service, and endorsed by the American Medical Association (AMA) and over thirty other medical associations, include explicit policy considerations for informed consent rights: The Standards of Adult Immunization Practices further stipulates that healthcare professionals should promptly report all clinically significant adverse events following vaccination to VAERS, even if the healthcare professional does not believe that the vaccine caused the event.
Where bioterrorism laws mandate vaccinations for anthrax, smallpox and other biochemical weapons, the statutory language of the federal bioterrorism law provides that quarantine will be an option for those who do not want to be vaccinated. This is not necessarily true for the few states, including Florida, that passed the original more coercive bioterrorism legislation which gives unelected public health officials the power to force vaccination with any means necessary. In the case of Florida, however, the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") grants expansive religious rights and the free exercise of religion so that religious objection to vaccination seems to be protected.
Q: Are college-bound students required by law to have certain vaccines for entry into a postsecondary institution?
Although certain vaccines are recommended for college-bound adult students, every person 18 years of age or older has the right to informed consent and may decline the vaccines.
The Bureau of Immunization does not regulate post secondary school immunization requirements. Rules and regulations for postsecondary schools are established and implemented by each institution, although such policies must be consistent with the rules of the State Board of Education.
Admission of students to state universities is within the jurisdiction of each university Board of Trustees. All eleven public 4-year universities in Florida have vaccination requirements for enrollment. The vaccination requirements of individual colleges may vary, however the Florida Administrative Code for educational institutions stipulates in 6C-6.001 that all students born after 1956 must submit documented proof of immunity to measles and rubella:
6C-6.OO Admissions. (1) Based on minimum standards adopted by the Board, through rule, the universities shall establish the criteria by rule for the admission of students. . . . (5) Each student accepted for admission shall, prior to registration, submit on a form, provided by the institution, a medical history signed by the student. Documentation of appropriate immunization for measles and rubella is required. Proof of immunization must be provided. This shall be a minimum requirement, and institution may require in addition such other evidence of examination as they may determine necessary. . . (8) Students may be required to have immunizations and to have undergone diagnostic procedures prior to registration. . .
Administrative Code can only be derived from statutory law. There appears to be NO STATUTORY PROVISION permitting the admissions rules set forth in Administrative Code 6C-6.001 section (5). The recently created Title XLVIII encompasses all legislation providing for the K-20 educational system. Title XLVIII includes no statute which provides the basis for this admissions requirement. Thus, whereas the statutory authority for this code may have existed at one time, there is currently no statute that authorizes this administrative policy.
Students are required by law to be informed by the postsecondary institutions about hepatitis B and meningitis. Florida statute 1006.69 mandates that each institution provide detailed information to every student (or student &'s parents if the student is a minor) concerning the risks associated with meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B as well as the availability, effectiveness, and known contra-indications of any required or recommended vaccine.
Effective January 7, 2003, Florida statute 1006.69 Section (2) mandates that an individual enrolled who will be residing in on-campus housing shall provide documentation of vaccinations against meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B unless the individual, if the individual is 18 years of age or older, or the individual's parents, if the individual is a minor, declines the vaccinations by signing a separate waiver for each of these vaccines, provided by the institution, acknowledging receipt and review of the information provided.
Florida statute 1006.69 applies only to meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B. The required documentation informs the postsecondary school, and thus the state, that the student has either been vaccinated for meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B or has chosen to decline the vaccines.
Where other vaccines are "recommended" for college-bound students or required by the postsecondary school for enrollment, there is no legislative mandate which stipulates that the student provide proof of vaccination or a signed waiver for these vaccines.
Q: How can my college-bound student obtain a religious exemption from postsecondary school vaccination requirements?
Although certain vaccines are recommended for college bound students, every person 18 years of age or older has the right to informed consent and may decline vaccines. It is not necessary to obtain an authorized medical or religious exemption (DH 681) from a county health department for postsecondary school admission, although having this religious exemption certificate can be useful as reference and/or appropriate documentation for some universities.
The State Board of Education is the chief implementing body of the K-20 public education system in Florida and has authority to establish rules or policies applicable to K-20 schools.
The K-20 Education Code, in Florida statute 1006.53, is explicit in its instruction to accommodate the religious beliefs of individual students when making rules and adopting policies:
1006.53 - Each public postsecondary educational institution shall adopt a policy in accordance with rules of the State Board of Education which reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice, and belief of individual students in regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work assignments. Each policy shall include a grievance procedure by which a student who believes that he or she has been unreasonably denied an educational benefit due to his or her religious belief or practices may seek redress. Such policy shall be made known to faculty and students annually in inclusion in the institution's handbook, manual, or other similar document regularly provided to faculty and students.
Florida statutes 1001.74 section (10) empowers each university board of trustees with authority to establish policies related to enrollment. Section (34) states, however, that each university board of trustee has responsibility for compliance with state and federal laws, rules, and regulations. Thus university boards of trustees are required to comply with statute 1006.53, which states that the school's policies must accommodate the religious beliefs of individual students in regards to admissions.
Florida statute 1001.75 section (4) grants university presidents the authority to govern admissions, however section (16) requires university presidents to comply with federal and state laws, rules and regulations. Thus, university presidents are required to comply with statute 1006.53, which states that the school's policies must accommodate the religious beliefs of individual students in regards to admissions.
As in the state university system, admission of students to community colleges is within the jurisdiction of each community college Board of Trustees. Florida statute 1001.64 section (8) (a) grants each community college Board of Trustees the authority to establish policies related to enrollment. Section (8) (g) explicitly states, however, that pursuant to statute 1006.53, the policies adopted by the community college boards of trustees reasonably accommodate the religious observance, practice and belief of individual students in regard to admissions:
"Each board of trustees pursuant to statute 1006.53 shall adopt a policy in accordance with the State Board of Education that reasonably accommodates the religious observance, practice, and belief of individual students in regard to admissions …"
Florida statute 1006.69 requires only that postsecondary schools provide detailed information to every student (or student's parents if the student is a minor) concerning the risks associated with meningococcal meningitis and hepatitis B as well as the availability, effectiveness, and known contra-indications of any required or recommended vaccine. The statute requires that students provide the postsecondary school with documentation that proves this information was reviewed and informs the school whether the student declines the vaccines or has received them.
Florida Statute 1006.69 does not grant postsecondary school administrators the authority to force compliance, nor does it grant the administrator the authority to question a signed waiver declining the hepatitis B or meningitis vaccines. The statute does not grant post secondary school administrators the power to deny admission to students who present signed waivers for these vaccines.
In order to be compliant with K-20 Administrative Code and Florida statutes 1006.53, 1006.69, 1001.74 and 1001.75, postsecondary schools must have a procedure for exemptions from vaccination requirements.
If procedures for religious exemption from vaccination requirements are omitted from postsecondary school admission statements, or if admissions personnel refuse to accommodate your religious objection to vaccination requirements, the institution is in violation of their legal requirement to do so.
Some admissions personnel are unaware of this requirement or misguided as to their limited authority in vaccine matters. When notifying the postsecondary institution of your right to be exempt from the vaccine requirements due to your religious beliefs, it may be necessary to remind the school's admissions personnel and/or general counsel of the statutory requirements for the institution to comply with Florida statutes 1006.53, 1001.74, 1001.75 as well as to the protection provided for religious freedom in the Florida Religious Freedom Restoration Act
Q: Can a college/university stipulate that a student must provide administrative proof of religious conflict on church letterhead, signed by clergy, for exemption from vaccination requirements for measles and rubella?
IF the postsecondary institution's religious exemption policy states that written documentation on church letterhead, signed by clergy, is required, KNOW that this requirement for administrative proof is prohibited by law.
The admissions requirement for proof of immunization against measles and rubella is derived from Chapter 6C-6.001 of the Florida Administrative Code. This code, however, contains no rule or legislative reference which says that a claim for religious exemption must be documented on church letterhead, signed by clergy.
If admissions personnel at a postsecondary school remain adamant that exemption is only valid with documentary proof on church letterhead, signed by clergy, it may be necessary to contact the school's legal counsel to review the statutory language in the K-20 education code that pertains to admissions requirements and religious freedom.
It is important to emphasize the Florida Supreme Court's ruling in 1998 regarding religious objection to vaccination:
The Court determined that questioning the validity of an individual's religious objection to vaccination and any attempt to investigate the particulars of the individual's religious objection exceeds statutory authority and is, therefore, unlawful and discriminatory.
The Court declared that government is not qualified to judge religious beliefs because it possesses no expertise with regard to such matters. Thus, agents of the state, including school administrators, may not discriminate between religious denominations and may not make judgments regarding religious convictions.
Whereas this particular ruling of the Florida Supreme Court was specific to the statutory language of Florida statute 1003.22, which pertains to school admissions in public/private K-12 schools and other preschool institutions, the constitutional protection from religious discrimination applies to all statutes.
It is important to also emphasize that the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that Florida's Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("FRFRA") expands the scope of religious protection beyond the conduct considered protected by cases from the United State Supreme Court. This suggests that even if postsecondary schools argue that legislation permits them to adopt their own rulings with regards to admissions, they are bound by the same limitations against religious discrimination as other public entities.
Q: Are private schools and enterprises bound by the same anti-discrimination federal laws as public schools?
Federal anti-discrimination law prohibits privately owned facilities that offer food, lodging, gasoline or entertainment to the public from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. To the extent private schools offer food, lodging or entertainment to the public, as most private colleges do, they are precluded from discriminating on the basis of religion in vaccine matters. Further, as discussed earlier, private K-12 schools are mandated by Florida Statutes 1002.4 (6) and 1003.22 (4) - (5) to have the same immunization policies as Florida public K-12 schools.
Private businesses that offer medical services, however, are not bound by federal religious anti-discrimination laws because private medical offices are not considered places of public accommodation.
Q: What should I do if I believe such a facility has discriminated against my religious objection to vaccination?
You may file a complaint with the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice or with the United States attorney in your area. You may also want to contact the Liberty Counsel (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Q: Are medical professionals required by law to have the hepatitis B vaccination?
The Occupational Health & Safety Administration has clarified the standard on occupational exposure to blood-borne pathogens for the hepatitis B vaccination. Under OSHA regulations, the hepatitis B vaccine must be made available to all employees with occupational exposure to blood.
Employers in these fields are required to protect employees from infection caused by the hepatitis B vaccine, although the employee has the option to decline participation in the vaccination and follow-up programs.
OSHA code 29 CFR 1910.1030 states: OSHA regulations clearly state that the vaccine does not have to be made available or administered if the employer documents the signature of the employee on the mandatory declination form.
Professional medical employees have the option to decline participation in the hepatitis B vaccination series.
In order to decline the hepatitis B vaccine offered by your employer, you must sign the hepatitis B vaccine declination form at the time the vaccination is made available. The employer has no authority to deny your exemption. The employer also may not require pre-vaccination screening for hepatitis B antibody status.
Q: Can insurance companies legally refuse medical coverage for individuals who have religious exemptions from mandated vaccine requirements?
Neither federal nor state law guarantees individuals will have health care coverage or insurance. Since the First Amendment only protects a person from discrimination by the government, a patient cannot use the Constitution to force private insurance companies to provide medical coverage.
It is not clear why some healthcare and insurance providers are beginning to assume police powers of surveillance and punishment for non-compliance of vaccine mandates. There are no scientific studies that compare the health risks of vaccinated patients to non-vaccinated patients. The justification for denying medical services to non-vaccinated patients, therefore, may be based on flawed assumptions about vaccination. It is also possible that conflicts of interest and/or pressure from industry groups play a role in this discriminatory policy.
Q: Can physicians legally refuse medical treatment to patients who are not vaccinated or who have religious conflicts with vaccination?
There is a growing trend for private physicians to refuse treatment to patients who will not be vaccinated. This raises the question of whether physicians can legally refuse to treat patients who have religious exemptions from vaccination.
Private medical offices are not considered places of public accommodation. Since the First Amendment only protects a person from discrimination by the government, a patient cannot use the Constitution to force private health care workers to provide treatment. Medical care providers are only covered by the nondiscrimination provision of the First Amendment if they receive federal financial assistance.
Although an individual has a constitutional right to choose or refuse treatment, the individual cannot use the Constitution to force a private physician to provide such treatment. Thus, physicians can legally refuse medical treatment to patients who have religious conflicts with vaccination.
If your physician refuses to provide medical treatment to you or your child under these circumstances, ask the physician if he/she also denies medical treatment to non-vaccinated patients with medical exemptions. It would be instructive to know whether the physician denies medical care to all non-vaccinated patients (including those with medical exemptions) or just to patients with religious exemptions. You may or may not get a truthful answer to that question.
A physician who provides medical treatment to patients with medical exemptions but refuses to provide medical treatment to patients with religious exemptions should be able to explain his/her reason for applying a double standard in the treatment of non-vaccinated patients with medical exemptions and non-vaccinated patients with religious exemptions.
Q: How will I be able to get medical care for my family if I am denied health insurance because of my religious beliefs?
There are many physicians and insurance companies who respect and honor a patient's religious beliefs and/or medical decisions. It is always advisable to choose a health care practitioner and institution that you can trust and who provides you with a level of commitment that you are entitled to.
While you may not use the Constitution to force a private physician to provide you with medical treatment, you do have a constitutional right to choose your medical care and practitioner.
Florida statute 381.026 section 4 (d) (1) stipulates that a patient has the right to impartial access to medical treatment or accommodations regardless of race, national origin, religion, handicap, or source of payment.
Florida statute 381.026 section 4 (d) (3) stipulates that a patient has the right to access any mode of treatment that is, in his or her own judgment and the judgment of his or her health care practitioner, in the best interests of the patient, including complementary or alternative health care treatments.
You have options with the type of medical care that you use for health maintenance and illness. The principles upon which holistic medical systems are founded share the same ethical considerations that many religious doctrines are based upon.
There are many non-traditional healthcare providers like chiropractic doctors (primary care providers in the state of Florida) homeopathic practitioners, and nutritional counselors who provide safe and effective alternative medical treatments for both acute illnesses and chronic diseases. Alternative medicine can be used in addition to or in place of vaccination to improve a patient's resistance to disease.