GULFPORT, Mississippi (LifeSiteNews) — Mississippi officials must allow students to obtain religious exemptions from vaccine mandates, a federal judge ruled recently.
The southern state had remained one of only two red states that did not offer religious exemptions from school shot mandates. The other is West Virginia.
District Judge Halil “Sul” Ozerden ruled on April 18 that the state’s health officer and a handful of local school district officials were “enjoined from enforcing Mississippi’s school compulsory vaccination law…unless they provide an option for requesting a religious exemption from the law’s requirements.” Plaintiffs were represented by the Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN), a medical freedom advocacy group.
State Health Officer Daniel Edney has until July 15, according to the ruling, to develop a statewide exemption process for the school shot mandates. “Thereafter, while the injunction remains in effect, a person may seek a religious exemption from the compulsory vaccine law by requesting such exemption pursuant to the process developed by the Mississippi State Department of Health.”
While the plaintiffs were parents, state officials themselves even argued there were exemptions from the mandates, even if those were not explicitly in the state code.
The state argued that another law, the Mississippi Religious Freedom Restoration Act, effectively provided an avenue for requesting an exemption based on religious grounds from vaccine mandates. “The Attorney General takes the position that the MRFRA requires the [state health department] and local school authorities to afford Plaintiffs’ minor children the option of requesting a religious exemption from the vaccination statute,” the judge wrote, summarizing the defendant’s position.
Judge Ozerden did not buy this argument, writing that “the plain text of the statute says nothing about automatically creating religious exemptions to any state law that runs afoul of the MRFRA.”
ICAN heralded the judge’s decision and hinted at future challenges to the five remaining states that still refuse to protect the medical freedom rights of parents and students.
“This puts an end to 44 years of discrimination and harm to Mississippi families and is a crucial win that lays the groundwork for future challenges in the five other states that similarly allow medical but not religious exemptions to school mandated vaccines,” ICAN wrote in its statement.
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Attorney General Lynn Fitch said through her media team that she will implement the judge’s ruling.
“We appreciate the judge’s thoughtful ruling from the bench and will give full consideration to his written order when provided,” Debbee Hancock, communications director for the Attorney General’s office, said in a statement provided to Mississippi Today. “General Fitch has always been of the belief that there is a religious liberty exemption, as stated in our filings in this case, and we look forward to working with the Department of Health to ensure faithful execution of the judge’s order.”
The remaining states that refuse religious exemptions are West Virginia, Connecticut, New York, Maine, and California, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
LifeSiteNews previously reported on alleged behind the scenes work by Republican leaders to kill legislation that would protect medical freedom and religious liberties.
“We had 7 bills authored this year to give parents a religious exemption from childhood vaccines to attend school or daycare,” Vance Cox with Mississippi Parents for Vaccine Rights told LifeSiteNews via email in February. “The two that we were pushing were [Senator Chris McDaniels’] in the Senate 2766 and [Representative Steve Hopkins’] bill in the House 1302.”
Senate 2766 would require school vaccine exemptions for anyone who “swears or affirms that the immunization required conflicts with the religious beliefs of the parent or guardian.” House Bill 1302 would do the same.
Cox alleged that Senator David Blount, a Republican, killed the exemption bill and that Richard Bennett, the House education committee chairman, took the Hopkins exemption bill off the agenda.
Cox said that House leadership “rarely [allows controversial] bills to even come up for a vote.”
He did not respond to a request for comment on the latest judicial ruling.
A bill to provide religious exemptions to West Virginia parents and students remains pending.