A Kansas couple trying to keep their 2-year-old grandson from being vaccinated sees themselves as fighting “the religious police.” Which makes it sound like they’re comparing the State of Kansas to Saudi Arabia’s Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, who until not that long ago went around beating Islamic dress code violators with canes.
“They’ve become the religious police,” said the child’s grandfather, Linus Baker, a Johnson County lawyer who with his wife Terri is suing to keep the Kansas Department for Children and Families from vaccinating their grandson while he is in temporary state custody but living with them.
Only what the Bakers, who are also the child’s foster parents, really mean is that Kansas shouldn’t be policing their religion by in any way questioning their anti-vaccine views.
They shouldn’t have to tell the state what denomination they are, their suit argues, or say which specific tenet of their faith led them to oppose their grandchild’s vaccination.
And what Kansas is really doing already, like all but three other states in the country, is protecting the rights of those with religious objections while endangering the rest of us, who have no way to opt out of being around those who opt out of vaccines. Kansas doesn’t even keep track of how many people get exemptions.
Like every other state, Kansas also offers a health exemption, and the Bakers claim one of those, too, explaining in their lawsuit that though the boy is healthy now, he was born with a heart condition, so they don’t know how vaccines would affect him.
A lot of us do know: He’d then be safe from certain deadly diseases, and so would we.
The law may very well be on side of the Bakers, however, even if all Kansas asked the child’s mother to do was put her reasons in writing within 14 days.
The Bakers question the requirement that every parent or guardian claiming a religious exemption for a child who attends school must attest that the child in question “is an adherent of a religious denomination whose religious teachings are opposed to such tests or inoculations.”
Claiming that a two-year-old could be an adherent of a religion, much less understand inoculations, says Linus Baker, is “nonsensical and ridiculous.” And it is, when you think about it.
He isn’t being illogical, either, in citing some favorite liberal court decisions to argue for his family’s constitutional right to privacy: “The cases in which the Supreme Court has recognized the right to control one’s own body, the right to make one’s own medical choices, and the right to control the health issues which arise in the integrity of a family, even though a child is in temporary custody of the state, mandate the conclusion that forced prophylactic vaccination...is a violation of these fundamental rights.’’
Religious liberty is our first freedom for good reason, but the state the Bakers see waging a religious war I see in this instance protecting their religious rights at considerable public health risk. And what they see as government overreach, I see as a dangerous under-reach.
We seem to be not so much to be pitting religion against science as supporting science in highly selective ways, with the right generally a lot more interested in advances in fetal medicine than in climate science and the left far more appreciative of the dangers of growth hormones fed to cattle or chickens than of fertility hormones fed to women who are gestational surrogates, or for years, to women using higher-dose oral contraceptives.
Both some religious conservatives and some of the progressives formerly known as hippies are anti-vaccine. And the rest of us must take our chances because Kansas, like every single state in the union, values their rights not too little but too much.