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JACKSON, Mississippi (LifeSiteNews) — Public health officials in Mississippi must allow parents to obtain a religious exemption from mandatory school vaccination – but the process is far from simple and supportive of parental rights.

The new exemption policy comes after a federal judge ruled that the state must allow for religious exemptions from vaccines. It is the only Republican state that did not offer religious exemptions besides West Virginia. Republican leaders in the state killed a variety of vaccine exemption bills during the last legislative session, as previously reported by LifeSiteNews.

The “religious exemption request” form from the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) requires parents to sign a statement affirming they “have been advised that not vaccinating my child with the vaccination(s) specified above can endanger their life or health, and the life or health of other children; the religious reasons for not vaccinating my child outweigh the advice I have been given regarding any risk of death or disability to my child or other children from the vaccine preventable disease.”

This form cannot simply be mailed into the local school district or county health department. Instead, parents must make an appointment to turn in the form and must “watch a Vaccine Education video and [they] will be given the opportunity to ask questions.”

A state health department nurse “will discuss the benefits and risks of immunizations with the parent/guardian.”

In contrast, other Republican states require a simple opt-out form.

MSDH did not directly answer questions from LifeSiteNews about the process. LifeSiteNews asked the media relations office how the department developed the process and why multiple steps were required.

LifeSite also asked what training nurses and other MSDH staff receive to ensure they respect the religious beliefs of individuals. Finally, LifeSite asked if the purpose of the meeting with the nurse is to dissuade exemptions, and if not, what the end goal is.

Spokeswoman Elizabeth Grey responded on Wednesday and pointed to website resources, including a statement from the Board of Health (BOH).

That July 14 statement shows the opposition from the board. “The MSDH and the BOH feel strongly that vaccine exemption decisions should not be made lightly or without sufficient education and consideration,” the board stated.

“The Mississippi State Board of Health strongly supports K-12 vaccination as a primary means of protecting our children from vaccine preventable communicable diseases and the resulting adverse outcomes, including death, that can occur in individuals infected with these diseases,” the board continued. “Many vaccine preventable diseases are rare today as a result of vaccine efforts, while other vaccine preventable diseases have significantly reduced incidence rates, morbidity, and mortality.”

It then continues into a discussion of measles vaccines and praise for a “strong school vaccination programs supported by a state law that has been in place for over 40 years.”

The statement referenced a 1978 court decision that rejected a request for a religious exemption.

On the second page of the statement, the board repeated its assertion, quoting from the 1978 court ruling, that “requiring immunization against certain crippling and deadly diseases particularly dangerous to children before they may be admitted to school, serves an overriding and compelling public interest.”

The board continued:

While the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH) and the Mississippi Board of Health (BOH) respect the authority of the federal court and the Mississippi Attorney General, the MSDH and BOH do not agree with either the opinion of the court on the constitutionality of the School Vaccination Law or the opinion of the Mississippi Attorney General that [the state religious freedom law] provides a religious exemption to the School Vaccination Law.

The Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) previously commented on the court’s ruling by celebrating the end of 44 years of discrimination against people.

“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 said at the time.