Belleville Councilwoman Naomy De Peña is pushing to stop the legislature from passing a bill that would remove the state’s religious exemptions to vaccinations.
“This is not a vaccination debate. This is about defending parental rights and religious freedom,” De Peña said. “I understand the public health aspects of this issue, but removing religious exemptions from this bill, without any explanation or public hearing, infringes on parental rights and religious freedom, which is unconstitutional. I support religious freedom for all, and anyone who cherishes freedom should oppose this amendment.”
The bill, A3818, would remove all non-medical exemptions for vaccination. It passed a committee vote in April but saw no action until it was amended on the Assembly floor in late January.
The measure is meant to stem a growing anti-vaccination movement that health officials say is responsible for outbreaks of preventable diseases, including measles. Late last year, at least 18 individuals contracted the disease after a man infected with measles returned from abroad and spread the disease.
The man visited a health center, synagogue and restaurant in Lakewood, where the outbreak began.
The bill’s opponents worry that the measure would infringe upon residents’ religious freedoms, while health officials worry about the public-safety concerns associated with a growing population of non-vaccinated children partially spurred by vaccination opponents using the religious exemption out of fear that vaccines cause autism.
There is no credible scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism.
“I’ve been in communication with Assemblyman [Herb] Conaway’s office, who is sponsoring the amendment, as well as Assemblywoman [Shanique] Speight, who not only represents Belleville, but sits on the Health Committee,” De Peña. “Other states have written mandatory jail time into the law for parents who choose not to inject their children with vaccines against their deeply-held religious beliefs. I believe this is an example of clear governmental overreach.”