One of the many protests at the state Capitol against the law to eliminate the religious exemption. Credit: Christine Stuart

A federal court judge upheld Connecticut’s law that prevents school children and their parents from claiming a religious exemption to childhood vaccines to attend school. 

U.S. District Court Judge Janet Arterton found the legislature’s decision to eliminate the religious exemption for students entering kindergarten in 2021 “does not violate the Free Exercise Clause,” of the U.S. Constitution. 

Arterton said the families who filed the lawsuit along with two organizations, We the Patriots USA and CT Freedom Alliance, lacked standing to sue because they could not show how they were harmed by the law. She also said the Supreme Court has upheld mandatory vaccination laws “because it is a neutral law of general applicability which is rationally related to a legitimate state purpose.”

The families and organizations claimed some vaccines were developed using cells from aborted fetuses, which violate their religious beliefs. They also claim the law “forces parents to renounce their religious beliefs and vaccinate their children or homeschool their children — something many parents cannot do — thus depriving them of any educational opportunities.”

In a statement following the decision the organizations said they planned to appeal it.

“To be clear, we expected this outcome. We have said from the very start that we believe strongly that this case will be won at the United States Supreme Court, not in the District Court, or at the Second Circuit. We will swiftly file an appeal to the Second Circuit, but even if we prevail there, the State will appeal to the United States Supreme Court, and we are confident the case will be heard there,” the organizations said. “Quite frankly, that’s where we want the case to land, so that when we emerge victorious (as we fully expect we will), a new day will dawn in this country, when no state anywhere will ever be able to deny a child an education on the basis of the child’s sincerely held religious beliefs.”

Connecticut Attorney General William Tong applauded the decision. 

“Vaccines save lives. The legislature’s action was fully lawful and necessary to protect public health,” Tong said in a statement. “The plaintiffs threw a laundry list of claims against the state, and every single count was dismissed.”

Gov. Ned Lamont signed the law in April 2021. 

“I’m doing everything I can, as you hear, to encourage people to get vaccinated and the more people vaccinated the safer we are,” Lamont said at the time. 

The COVID-19 vaccine, which is now available to children ages 5 and above, is not on the list of mandatory vaccines to receive in order to gain entrance to school in Connecticut.