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SACRAMENTO, CA, June 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Proposed mandatory vaccine legislation threatens to strip California parents of their conscience protections and constitutional right to religious liberty, prompting people of faith to cry foul and call on religious leaders to join in opposing the law.

Two pro-life organizations in particular are urging the state’s Catholic bishops to speak up.

The controversial bill, S.B. 277, targets both public and private schools, forcing parents to homeschool if they object to vaccinations.

The bill was already passed by the California Senate and is currently before the California State Assembly. It could come up for a final vote as early as this week.

It was introduced in February by Democrat Sens. Richard Pan and Ben Allen, mainly in response to a measles outbreak originating at Disneyland last December.

The outbreak affected 173 people from 17 states, and lasted four months, with data indicating that 80 percent of the cases were individuals who were not vaccinated.

Should S.B. 277 make it to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and get his signature, California would become the third state without religious or personal-belief exemptions, after Mississippi and West Virginia.

S.B. 277 affects children in “public or private elementary or secondary school, child care center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home, or development center.”

Only a medical exemption would remain, which is cumbersome, requiring paperwork signed by a physician, and critics say it is often only issued after a catastrophic adverse vaccine reaction has already occurred.

Some of the bill’s critics say the purported need for forced vaccination is not substantiated, pointing out that California’s vaccine rates are rising and vaccine exemptions are down, and also that exemption statistics are skewed by an all or nothing reporting method.

Further, they say the health crisis was overblown, the measles outbreak amounting to less than 200 cases in a state of 33.8 million people, a significant percentage of which were adults who wouldn’t have been affected by school vaccination laws.

But more importantly, at issue is the prospect of parents being forced to violate their consciences should the State mandate their child be vaccinated when some vaccines are derived from aborted fetal cells.

Pan, a practicing pediatrician, had testified erroneously before the April 29 Senate Judiciary Committee that no vaccines contain aborted fetal cells, and also that the Vatican supported forced vaccination, statements immediately refuted by Children of God for Life, which advocates for ethical vaccines.

“As a pediatrician Senator Pan should know better,” Children of God for Life’s Executive Director Debi Vinnedge told LifeSiteNews. “And he should certainly know that there are aborted fetal cell components, DNA and proteins present in several other vaccines and medicines, notably Hepatitis-A, MMRII, Varicella, ProQuad, Pentacel, Zostavax and some Rabies shots.”

“Pan also failed to acknowledge that there were over 80 elective abortions involved with the rubella vaccine alone and that the pharmaceutical industry continues to use both existing and new aborted fetal cells for ongoing research and development of future vaccines,” she said.

Children of God for Life sent a May 6 letter to the State’s legislators correcting Pan’s errors, and citing numerous Church documents on conscience and religious freedom.  

“To deny the religious right of conscience in abstaining from these vaccines is to deny Catholics their absolute duty to follow the instruction God has imprinted in their hearts,” it stated. “Such action clearly violates both Catholic Church teaching and religious freedom. Therefore, we urge all members of the California Assembly and Senate to oppose S.B. 277 which clearly threatens religious freedom not only for Catholics, but for all faiths who in good conscience cannot comply with this mandate.”

To date, the California Catholic Conference, which lobbies on behalf of the state’s bishops, has not taken a stance on S.B. 277. In their statement, they quote from a 2005 document by the Pontifical Academy for Life on the use of vaccines produced with aborted fetal cells, stating that there is “a grave responsibility to use alternative vaccines and to make a conscientious objection with regard to those which have moral problems.”

The document stressed “the need to contest” such vaccines to exert pressure for the creation of moral vaccines, but also stressed the “lawfulness” of using them for the safety of children and society.

However, it continues, “The lawfulness of the use of these vaccines should not be misinterpreted as a declaration of the lawfulness of their production, marketing and use, but is to be understood as being a passive material cooperation and, in its mildest and remotest sense, also active, morally justified as an extrema ratio due to the necessity to provide for the good of one's children and of the people who come in contact with the children (pregnant women).”

“Such cooperation occurs in a context of moral coercion of the conscience of parents, who are forced to choose to act against their conscience or otherwise, to put the health of their children and of the population as a whole at risk. This is an unjust alternative choice, which must be eliminated as soon as possible,” it adds.

Forced vaccination in California is not new. In October 2011 Gov. Jerry Brown signed the controversial A.B. 499 bill, which bypasses parental consent and allows minors as young as 12 to “consent” to receiving the controversial HPV shot. The California Catholic Conference and the bishops opposed that bill.

LifeSiteNews asked individual California bishops for comment on S.B. 277. Of those that responded, a majority referred to the California Catholic Conference statement on the issue.

A spokesman for Sacramento Bishop Jaime Soto told LifeSiteNews that the bishop supports the Conference’s stance, but is monitoring the bill for a religious exemption.

“We are sympathetic with religious exemptions,” Kevin Eckery said.

The California Senate voted 25-10 mostly along party lines May 14 to approve the bill eliminating religious and personal belief exemptions for vaccinations in California, sending it now to the California Assembly.

But not before one Catholic senator made a plea for religious rights via his request for amendments to S.B. 277.

“We’re not saying that you shouldn’t be able to vaccinate,” Republican Sen. Joel Anderson said. “In each one of these amendments, what we’ve said is, should that vaccination cost me my religious faith? Do you have a right to steal my soul without my knowledge?”

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“It’s that simple and that straightforward,” said Anderson. “We don’t go into someone’s church and raid it, but yet, we’re taking, in the dark of night, without the parents or guardians knowledge, their faith, and their ability to practice their faith.”

One amendment Anderson requested involved informed consent when aborted fetal cells are used in vaccines. 

S.B. 277 fails to address the problem of fully informing and notifying parents and doctors of the contents of the vaccinations, he said.

“This is important because as parents, the guardians of our children, we should have a right to know when the ingredients contained in the State mandated vaccines violate our religious practices,” Anderson said on the senate floor before its vote. “For many practicing Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, evangelicals and other faithful this violates their personal religious beliefs. Our country was founded on religious freedom, and no one’s faith should be violated without their knowledge.”

All six proposed amendments, including one that would allow parents to claim a religious exemption for their children, were tabled by majority vote.

Some students not currently vaccinated would be grandfathered in and a promise to limit the required vaccines to the current ten was promised as part of a compromise in the Senate’s passage of the bill.

Vinnedge told LifeSiteNews she was not impressed. Delaying the required vaccines would prove problematic theoretically, she said, and the amended language still leaves it open for more to be added later.

Further, she said, one of those vaccines is not even needed to protect public health in the schools, Hepatitis-B.  “That disease is only transmitted by direct contact with infected blood – blood to blood contact. Common among street IV drug users, sexual activity, but not in a grade school,” Vinnedge said. “And as Senator Anderson noted, the State allows children who are infected with Hepatitis-B to attend school, and they are the only ones who could spread the disease. This makes no sense whatsoever to exclude a child not vaccinated for that disease – the unvaccinated is not endangering anyone.”

American Life League President Judie Brown called the bill an arrogant power grab by California politicians, and decried the absence of a stronger stand from the state’s Catholic leaders.

“Parental rights will take a serious blow if this bill passes into law as the Catholic bishops look on,” Brown said in a statement.

Granite Bay, CA mother Laura Hayes drafted an open letter to California religious leaders on S.B. 277 that was published in March on the Age of Autism website and made available for other parents to use.

“I can assure you that each of you has parishioners who are extremely concerned about losing the right to make voluntary and informed medical decisions for their children,” Hayes said. “Many of us are praying that our religious leaders will speak out against S.B. 277's violations of parental rights, religious freedom, prior, voluntary, and informed consent laws with regards to medicine, and perhaps other things that might be religion-specific (i.e. among other things, use of aborted fetal cells).

“As for moving forward, we do encourage the bishops and other leaders of various denominations to intercede and protect the right of religious freedom,” Vinnedge told LifeSiteNews. 

“I know that as a Catholic I have been called upon by our bishops nationwide numerous times to contact my legislators regarding the protection of religious conscience rights against the HHS mandate,” she said. “And of course I stand behind our bishops and our medical professionals in this most important effort.” 

“But I do think that the same protection needs to be extended to those who wish to abstain from aborted fetal vaccines,” Vinnedge continued, “and I would hope our bishops will do exactly what they have asked us to do: defend the right of conscience for parents.”