(Christine Stuart Photo)
(Christine Stuart Photo)

Opponents of a new law eliminating an exemption to Connecticut’s school vaccination requirements filed a lawsuit Friday asking a federal court judge to permanently prohibit the state from enforcing the change and find it unconstitutional. 

Two organizations, We the Patriots USA and the CT Freedom Alliance, claimed the law violated the constitution in a complaint filed just two days after Gov. Ned Lamont signed the bill. The groups signalled their intent to sue the state earlier this week as the Senate debated the proposal while thousands of opponents protested outside the state Capitol Building. 

The law discontinues the use of a religious exemption to avoid vaccinating new students beginning next year. Proponents say this change will help avoid outbreaks of preventable diseases in areas where low vaccination rates have created pockets of vulnerability. The vaccine requirements extend to public and private schools, as well as day care centers and colleges. 

Under the law, Connecticut became the sixth state without a religious or comparable exemption, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures

In the 15-page complaint, lawyers for the two groups and three parents listed as plaintiffs argue that the law requires parents to choose between their faith and their child’s education. 

“In other words, HB-6423 forces parents to either renounce their religious beliefs and vaccinate their children or homeschool their children – something that many parents cannot do – thus depriving them of any education opportunities,” the lawyers wrote.

The complaint names as defendants the state Office of Early Childhood Development and Department of Education, as well as the boards of education in Bethel, Glastonbury and Stamford, where the three parents are located. 

Asked about the expected lawsuit Thursday, Lamont declined to speculate whether the law would withstand a court challenge. Instead, he vouched for the efficacy of vaccines and said he was focused on encouraging people to get vaccinated before the start of the next school year. 

“Everybody likes to sue,” Lamont said. “It just seems to me, we’ve spent the last four months talking about how safe and effective vaccines are — they’re breaking the back of COVID, allowing us to get back to a new normal — so I’d like to think we can put this issue behind us.”

The parents included in the lawsuit opposed vaccine requirements on several grounds. The complaint describes one family who abstained from consuming pork as part of their Muslim beliefs. According to the lawsuit, one of the vaccines required under state law contains a substance derived from pork. Another family, who decided to raise their children as vegans, opposed the vaccine for similar reasons. 

All three parents described in the lawsuit opposed using vaccines developed from cell lines descended from human fetal cells, calling it participation in “what they feel was an act of intentional, premeditated murder.” 

Later on in the same complaint, the lawyers cited Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. Those cases, which established a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy also helped establish “a broad right to freedom to make personal choices – central to personal dignity and autonomy – about one’s own medical decisions.” Removing the vaccine exemption denied parents that freedom, they argued.

“HB-6423 deprives the Plaintiffs of their rights to privacy and medical freedom by leaving the Plaintiffs no viable alternatives to educate their children without submitting to the Defendants’ interference with her medical decisions,” the lawyers wrote. 

The complaint also described a family that moved to Connecticut to avoid vaccine requirements in New York, which got rid of its religious exemption in 2019 following the 2018 measles outbreak. 

“[Constantina] Lora’s husband now commutes three hours to work every day because New York failed to respect the family’s religious beliefs, and they have refused to abandon their beliefs,” the lawyers wrote.