NVIC Vaccine News

Freedom of Religion and Conscience in America

By Barbara Loe Fisher
Published October 16, 2019 in Rights & Ethics


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Government health officials and medical trade associations are aggressively lobbying state legislatures for elimination of religious exemptions to vaccination in public health laws in your state. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 One reason they are doing that is because they know it is unconstitutional to force you to prove you are a member of a church that opposes vaccination in order to exercise freedom of religion in the United States of America. 11 12 13

In this country, our Constitution guarantees we have the freedom to follow our conscience and worship God or hold spiritual beliefs that do - or do not – adhere to the tenets of an organized religion or church.  We also have the freedom to hold no religious or spiritual beliefs. 14

Freedom of religion is specifically recognized in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution as a natural right protected under U.S. law. 15 16 Internationally, freedom of conscience and freedom of religion are recognized as human rights. 17

We are a nation governed by laws. Laws are made by the people we elect to represent us in our state legislatures and in Congress. 18 The courts interpret and enforce laws. 19 Judicial decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court, the highest court, are binding on all state and federal courts.

1905 U.S. Supreme Court Endorses Utilitarianism

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a morally flawed decision in Jacobson vs. Massachusetts 20 based on the since discredited philosophy of utilitarianism, 21 22 23 which uses a mathematical equation as a guide to making law and defining ethical behavior. 24 25  In the name of the public health, the Court ruled that the welfare of a minority of people can be sacrificed for the welfare of a greater number of people. 26

That Supreme Court decision, which legalized the use of utilitarianism 27 28 as a guide to public health law, declared that state legislatures have the constitutional authority to mandate vaccinations, even if the mandate conflicts with a citizen’s religious beliefs.

U.S. Supreme Court Justifies Forced Sterilization Laws Based on Mandatory Vaccination Laws

In 1927, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes 29 30 used the utilitarian ruling in Jacobson, which condoned forced vaccination, to justify another diabolical judicial ruling, this one allowing state governments to practice eugenics and involuntarily sterilize Americans considered by public health officials to be genetically defective. 31 32 33

Over the past century, the Jacobson vs. Massachusetts decision has been upheld in many state and federal courts, when parents have challenged the constitutionality of state vaccine mandates prohibiting unvaccinated children from receiving a school education. 34 35 36 37 38 39

States Have Constitutional Authority to Choose Not to Mandate Vaccines, Allow Exemptions

Although the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1905 that state legislatures have the constitutional authority to mandate vaccines, state legislatures also have the constitutional authority to choose not to mandate vaccines and/or to include exemptions for conscientious and religious beliefs. 40 So, the kinds of public health laws that are passed in state legislatures 41 42 depend upon the values and beliefs of the lawmakers, who voters elect in that state. 43 44 45 46 47

Right now, there are only two laws that require American citizens to risk their lives. The first is a federal law, the military draft, which requires all healthy male adults to risk their lives in a war declared by the government to protect national security. The federal government allows adults conscripted for military service, who object to killing other people for reasons of conscience or religious beliefs, to obtain a conscientious objection exemption and perform alternative civil service. 48

The second law is a state law requiring all healthy children to risk their lives in a war on microbes that doctors declared two centuries ago. 49 50 51 52 53 However, unlike adults who are not segregated and denied a school education or medical care 54 for following their conscience and religious beliefs, parents can be punished for following their conscience and refusing to risk their children’s lives in a perpetual war on microbes that, today, the federal government has expanded from the concept of protecting the public health 55 to a more military concept of protecting national “security.” 56 57 58 59 60

Mandatory Vaccination Laws Without Exemptions Violate Human and Civil Rights

Today, parents who follow their conscience and religious beliefs, are being sanctioned by government officials if they oppose vaccination, and so are their children. 61 62 State legislatures are passing laws and public health officials are issuing administrative rules that discriminate against children, who lack even one of the dozens of doses of state mandated vaccinations, by segregating them from their peers and denying them a school education.

State governments implementing federal government policy also are taking away the legal right for enlightened and compassionate doctors to give children, who are at high risk for suffering vaccine injury and death, a medical exemption to vaccination; 63 64 65 and states are permitting pediatricians to deny medical care to children if their parents refuse one or more federally recommended vaccinations. 66 67

The military draft in times of war and vaccine mandates are two different laws that legally require healthy Americans to risk injury or death: one law temporarily conscripts healthy adults in what the government clearly defines as an emergency military action; and the other law perpetually conscripts healthy children in a mandatory vaccination program that the government does not define as an emergency military action, but is certainly operated like one. 68

Unlimited Authority Exercised by Medical Establishment Threatens Human Rights

In the 21st century, the biggest threat to individual and public health is not measles or pertussis or influenza. The biggest threat to our health is the increasingly unlimited authority that doctors exercise over the human right to autonomy and protection of bodily integrity. 69 70 71 72

Whether they are employed by the uniformed U.S. Pubic Health Service 73 74 or are civilian doctors enlisted to implement government policy, it is dangerous to give doctors or anyone else unchecked power to order people to choose between playing vaccine roulette with their lives or their children’s lives or be punished for refusing to obey the order. 75

Judeo-Christian Traditions Value Prayer, Affirm Conscience

The medical practice of vaccination is only two centuries old and came thousands of years after the founding of the world’s major organized religions: Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Obviously, there is no major religion with a written tenet opposing vaccination.

However, there is a strong Judeo-Christian tradition 76 affirming the duty of those who believe in God to follow their conscience. 77 78  If you are a Christian, you can find passages in the Bible, which affirm your beliefs as a Christian to follow your conscience and the guidance given to you by God through prayer. 79 Prayer for guidance is central to many Protestant denominations. 80 81

Also, the definition of moral conscience is discussed in detail in the catechism of the Catholic Church, which holds that, “Conscience is a judgment of reason whereby the human person recognizes the moral quality of a concrete act that he is going to perform, is in the process of performing or has already completed. In all he says and does, man is obliged to follow faithfully what he knows to be just and right. It is by the judgment of his conscience that man perceives and recognizes the prescription of the divine law.” 82

In even stronger terms, Catholic canon warns that, “a human being must always obey the certain judgment of his conscience. If he were deliberately to act against it, he would condemn himself.” 83

If you are of Jewish faith, your foundation is the old testament of the Bible and the Torah, 84 which emphasize that man is created in the image of God and that each individual human being has worth and a right to equal and loving treatment. Preservation of human life and reliance on God 85 is central to the teachings of Judaism.

Get Involved in Law Making Process to Protect Human Rights

Because vaccines can injure and kill and doctors cannot predict who will be harmed, we have the human right and everyone should have the legal right to exercise informed consent, freedom of conscience and religious belief when making a decision about vaccination. 86

If you want civil liberties and human rights protected in your state laws, you need to vote in every election and get involved in the lawmaking process. You can start today by making sure your elected representatives know how you feel about vaccine laws that violate your conscience and religious beliefs.

Go to NVIC.org and NVICAdvocacy.org to learn more about vaccination and join with tens of thousands of Americans, who are learning how to become vaccine freedom advocates so they can defend civil liberties and human rights in every state.

Be the one who never has to say that you did not do today what you could have done to change tomorrow.

It’s your health. Your family. Your choice.


1 NVIC. NVIC’s 2019 Annual Report on U.S. State Vaccine Legislation: Vaccine Exemptions Under Attack in 2019. NVIC Newsletter Sept. 25, 2019.

2 National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). Eliminating Personal Belief Exemptions from Immunization Requirements for Child Care and School Attendance. NACCHO Board of Directors Statement of Policy July 2011.

3 Every Child by Two (ECBT). Daycare Center and School Immunization Mandates: A Position Statement of Every Child by Two. ECBT Dec. 5, 2012.

4 Association of Immunization Managers (AIM). Position Statement on Personal Belief Exemptions from State Vaccination Mandates. Jan. 21, 2014.

5 Jepsen B. AMA: End Personal, Religious Vaccination Exemptions. Forbes June 8, 2015.

6 American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP).  Immunization Exemptions. AAFP Board of Directors September 2015.

7 Infectious Diseases in Children. Elimination of vaccine exemptions serves children's best interests. Healio Nov. 23, 2015.

8 American Academy of Pediatrics. Medical Versus Nonmedical Exemptions for Child Care and School AttendancePediatrics August 2016.

9 American Medical Association. AMA policy advocates to eliminate non-medical vaccine exemptions. AMA Press Release: June 13, 2019.

10 National Vaccine Information Center. New York Bill Removing Religious Exemption to Vaccination Turned Into Law on One Day with No Public HearingsThe Vaccine Reaction June 14, 2019.

11 America’s Founding Documents: U. S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. U.S. Archives.

12 FindLaw. First Amendment of U.S. Constitution: Religion and Expression.

13 Sherr v Northport – East Northport U. Free Sch. D. United States District Court, E.D. New York. Summary. Oct. 21, 1987.

14 University of Chicago. The Founder’s Constitution Vol. 1, Amendment 1 (Religion), Document 5. From The Works of Thomas Jefferson. Collected and edited by Paul Leicester Ford. Federal Edition. 12 vols. New York and London: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1904--5.

15 National Constitution Center. First Amendment Freedom of Expression and Religion. Dec. 16, 2013.

16 The First Amendment Encyclopedia. Natural Rights.

17 United Nations General Assembly. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Dec. 10, 1948.

18 Reference. Understanding How the U.S. Government is Organized.

19 USAgov. Branches of the US Government. Apr. 5, 2019.

20  Jacobson v. Massachusetts. 197 U.S. 11(1905). Cornell University Law School.

21 Utilitarian Philosopy.com. Utilitarian Philosophy.

22 Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832).

23 Crimmins JE. Bentham on Religion: Atheism and the Secular Society. J History Ideas 1986; 47(1): 95-110.

24 U.S. Legal. Hedonistic Utilitarianism Law and Legal Definition.

25 Kay CD. Notes on Utilitarianism. Wofford College 1997.

26 Fisher BL. Forced Vaccination: The Tragic Legacy of Jacobson v. MassachusettsNVIC Newsletter Nov. 2, 2016.

27 Legal Dictionary. Utilitarianism. Oct. 28, 2016.

28 Anderson K. Utilitarianism: The Greatest Good for the Greatest Number. Probe Ministries International 2004.

29 Schuler P. Law professor reveals another side to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. in a new book on former Supreme Court Justice. University of Chicago Chronicle 2001; 20(12).

30 Black E. The Horrifying American Roots of Nazi Eugenics. History News Network September 2003.

31 LSU Law Center. Supreme Court Upholds Sterilization of the Mentally Regarded – Buck v. Bell, 274 U.S. 200, 475 Ct. 584, 71L, Ed. 1000 (1927).

32 University of Virginia. Eugenics: Buck v Bell, The Test Case for Virginia’s Eugenical Sterilization Act. Claude Moore Health Science Library 2004.

33 Stern AM. STERILIZED in the name of Public HealthAm J Public Health 2005; 95(7): 1128-1138.

34 Gostin LO. Jacobson v. Massachusetts at 100 Years: Police Power and Civil Liberties in Tension. Am J Public Health 2005; 95(4): 576-581.

35 Volokh E. California’s vaccination requirement is constitutional, says federal court. Washington Post Aug. 29, 2016.

36 Egelko B. California’s mandatory-vaccination law survives court test. San Francisco Chronicle July 19, 2018.

37 Bump B. Judge denies request to block New York vaccination lawTimes Union July 12, 2019.

38 State of New York Supreme Court. Hon. Denise A. Hartman Decision and Order Index No. 4108-19 in F.F. on behalf of her minor children et al v. State of New York, Andrew Cuomo, Governor; Letitia James, Attorney General. Aug. 23, 2019.

39 Hogan G. Ruling Against Anti-Vax Parents, Judge Upholds Ban On Religions Exemptions To VaccinesGothamist Aug. 26, 2019.

40 Mariner WK, Annas GJ, Glantz LH. Jacobsen v Massachusetts: It’s Not Your Great Great Grandfather’s Public Health Law. Am J Pub Health 2005; 95(4): 58-590.

41 Office of NY Governor Mario Cuomo. Press Release: Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Removing Non-Medical Exemptions from School Vaccination Requirements. June 13, 2019.

42 Fisher BL. Forced Vaccination and Civil Disobedience. NVIC Newsletter Sept. 20, 2019.

43 Green BA. The Role of Personal Values in Professional Decisionmaking. Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 1997; 11(19).

44 Post RC. Law and Cultural Conflict. Yale Faculty Scholarship Series 2003; 180.

45 Bilz K, Nadler J. Law, Moral Attitudes and Behavioral Change (Chapter 10). In: The Oxford Handbook of Behavioral Economics and the Law 2014.

46 Lee LM, Zaronsky C. Foundational values for public health. Public Health Reviews 2015; 36(2).

47  Fisher BL. The Vaccine Culture War in America: Are You Ready? NVIC Newsletter  Mar. 8, 2015.

48 The National Peace Museum of Conscientious Objection and Anti-War Activism. The History of Conscientious Objection. 2006.

49 Fisher BL. Shots in the Dark: Attempts at eradicating infectious diseases are putting our children at risk. Next City Magazine Summer 1999.

50 King LS. Edward Jenner. Encyclopedia Britannica 2019.

51 Kellman R. The War on Bacteria: Who Are We Really Harming? Huffington Post Mar. 1, 2016.

52 Loughman A, Bates T. Essays on Health: Microbes aren’t the enemy, they’re a big part of who we are. The Conversation July 3, 2017.

53 Haberkorn J. Inside the government’s war on microbes. Politico Dec. 13, 2017.

54 Nelson R. New AAP Policy on Patient Dismissal for Vaccine Refusal May "Erode Solidarity" Among Pediatricians. Infectious Disease Advisor May 24, 2018.

55 U.S. Centers for Disease Control. CDC: Our History, Our Story. Dec. 4, 2018.

56  U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Measles Still Threatens Health Security. CDC Press Release: Dec. 5, 2013.

57 U.S. Centers for Disease Control. CDC: Mission, Role, Pledge. May 13, 2019.

58 CDC. Global Health – CDC and the Global Health Security Agenda. May 7, 2019. Why Global Health Security is Essential to U.S. National Security. Sept. 21, 2017.

59 CDC. Contribution of U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Implementation of he Global Health Security Agenda in 17 Partner Countries. Emerg Infect Dis 2017; 23(13).

60 The Vaccine Reaction. Executive Order Creates Influenza Vaccine Task Force to Protect “National Security and Public Health.” Sept. 25, 2019.

61 Fisher BL. Despite High Child Vaccination Rates, CDC Calls for Shaming Schools. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 2, 2015.

62 Fisher BL. Taking No Prisoners in the Vaccine Culture War. NVIC Newsletter Mar. 13, 2019.

63 Fisher BL. The Disappearing Medical Exemption to Vaccination. NVIC Newsletter Sept. 17, 2019.

64 Grimes K. California Bill to Restrict Vaccine Medical Exemptions Passes: SB714 Is Going to Be a Mockery of Democracy.” The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 10 2019.

65 The Vaccine Reaction. Disabled Child Denied Medical Vaccine Exemption Kicked Out of NY School. Oct. 10, 2019.

66 Fisher BL. Pediatricians Turn Well Baby Checkups Into Battlegrounds. NVIC Newsletter  Nov. 5, 2018.

67 National Vaccine Information Center. Cry for Vaccine Freedom Wall.

68 deWael A. Militarizing Global Health. Boston Review Nov. 11, 2014.

69 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Interview with Dr. Michael Grodin on the role of medical doctors in the Third Reich and the ethical duty of doctors today. Mar. 1, 2012.

70 Porter D. Medicine and Society: Doctors, the State and the Ethics of Medical Practice. Virtual Mentor 2007; 9(12): 832-837.

71 Mandal J, Ponnambath DK, Parija SC. Utilitarian and deontological ethics in medicine. Trop Parasitol 2016; 6(1): 5-7.

72 Fisher BL. Freedom to Dissent and the New Blacklist in America. NVIC Newsletter July 1, 2019.

73 DHHS. History of the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

74 Collins C. The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps: Two Centuries and Counting. Defense Media Network Oct. 10, 2016.

75  Fisher BL. Class and Race Profiling in the Vaccine Culture War. NVIC Newsletter July 17, 2017.

76 Cherry RR. The Judeo-Christian Values of America. American Thinker Sept. 15, 2007.

77 Fisher BL. The Moral Right to Conscientious, Philosophical and Personal Belief Exemption to Vaccination. Presentation to National Vaccine Advisory Committee May 2, 1997.

78 Fisher BL. Defending the Religious Exemption to Vaccination. NVIC Newsletter June 28, 2016.

79 Holy Bible (New International Version). Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” - Philippians 4:6-7.

80 Okholm DL. Prayer. Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology 1996.

81 Zachman RC. Conscience in the Theology of Martin Luther and Soren Kierkegaard. Journal of Lutheran Ethics Dec. 1, 2010.

82 Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Dignity of the Human Person; Article 6: Moral Conscience.

83 Ibid.

84 Holy Torah. English translation Jewish Publication Society.

85 The Complete Jewish Bible. “…I shall praise the Lord in my life; I shall sing to the Lord as long as I exist. Do not trust in princes, in the son of man, who has no salvation. His spirit leaves, he returns to his soil; on that day, his thoughts are lost. Praiseworthy is he in whose help is the God of Jacob; his hope is in the Lord his God…” – Psalms Chapter 146.

86 Fisher BL. From Nuremberg to California: Why Informed Consent Matters in the 21st Century. National Vaccine Information Center Oct. 24, 2017.

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5 Responses to "Freedom of Religion and Conscience in America"
Commenter Name
Elizabeth Blocker Ebaugh
Posted: 10/18/2019 11:45:00 AM
I am totally in agreement of our civil right to choose including vaccines. This conversation needs to expand to recognize vaccines are not right for all and the true science, not the Big Pharmo paid for science needs to be disseminated to all.
Commenter Name
Posted: 10/18/2019 2:18:11 PM
I have been a nurse for 20 years and I recently applied at a teaching hospital in Boston. They offered me the job and I accepted but when I went in to Occupational Health and declined the flu vaccine the offer was rescinded. Nurses are being fired or not hired because they refuse the flu shot. I’ve worked in several hospitals over the years and many years ago was never forced to get a flu shot. I’m very disappointed and upset at what is happening. We should not be mandated to take a medication or bullied because we don’t. It doesn’t feel right at all. I’m disgusted and very discouraged. My current nurse manager thinks we will be mandated soon and if that happens I could be out of a job.
Commenter Name
Posted: 10/20/2019 1:21:01 PM
Erin, I also am a RN, and at the hospital where I work there are a surprising amount of people who are choosing to not vaccinate. They re allowing us to opt out this year, but I also feel one day you will have to do it or lose your job. In which case I will say BYE BYE!!! Im not going to be poisoned in order to work a job. I'm proud of you Erin for sticking to your guns.
Commenter Name
Eilene Beck
Posted: 12/9/2019 10:44:29 AM
In NJ we are up against a ruthless bill A3818/S2173 to totally Remove our Religious Exemption with Immediate affect. Kicking over 16,000 HEALTHY school children from pre-school through higher education out of school and onto the streets and BLACKMAILING them to SUBMIT or GET OUT! Please call both your Senators AND Assembly members to vote No ( to oppose) this bill and uphold our Freedoms of Religion and Belief as a basic human right and Constitutional Freedom. Our founding fathers build this land for freedom not control over human beings and their beliefs! Call now before the votes on 12/12 and 12/16. Thank you! 🙏🏻🦋🌸
Commenter Name
vinita goel
Posted: 1/3/2020 12:05:17 PM
Removing religious exemption and making mandatory vaccination goes against citizens civil rights.

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