The Religious Exemption to Vaccination

All 50 states have exemptions to vaccination written into state law but, with the exception of the medical exemption, the right to a religious, personal, philosophical or conscientious belief exemption varies from state to state.

Those who wish to take a religious exemption to vaccination should be aware of the need to exercise this exemption only if there is the existence of a sincere and deeply held religious belief that conflicts with the secular state law requiring vaccination.

The religious exemption to vaccination exists in all but two states, Mississippi and West Virginia, where its absence has never been challenged at the state Supreme Court level. In states where the religious exemption has been worded restrictively, in that it requires a person to belong to a church with a written tenet opposing vaccination, legal challenges at the state high court level have struck down the state’s attempt to force a citizen to belong to a certain religion or church in order to take the religious exemption to vaccination.

In other words, a person may hold a sincere personal religious belief opposing vaccination without being required to belong to an organized religion or specific church that officially opposes vaccination.

However, most states can and do require some demonstration that the person claiming the religious exemption to vaccination holds sincere and deeply held religious beliefs opposing vaccination. This means the person asking for the right to take a religious exemption should be prepared to defend it on spiritual or religious, not secular (i.e., scientific or medical) grounds.

The Supreme Court of Wyoming and recently a federal court in New York have both set limitations on the lengths to which public health or school officials may go to require a person to prove their sincerely held religious beliefs regarding vaccination. However, these boundaries do not eliminate the requirement to give some demonstration of sincerity.

To protect the integrity and legal viability of the religious exemption to vaccination, it is extremely important that those who belong to and practice a particular faith—whether it be Christian, Jewish, Muslim or any other organized religion—do not change their faith or join another church with the idea that it will be easier to take a religious exemption.

The religious exemption to vaccination is protected and can be defended under the law, no matter what faith is embraced. And it is very important for more individuals who belong to mainstream churches to defend their religious beliefs about vaccination within their own faith.

On Jan. 31 this year, New York federal Judge Michael Telesca ruled in favor of a mother, who is Roman Catholic and opposed to vaccination of her daughter based on her religious beliefs within her faith. Judge Telesca said that the mother had “demonstrated her religious beliefs were genuine. … This Court may not pass on the wisdom of [her] belief, nor on the manner upon which she came to hold that belief, provided that she maintains a sincere and genuine religious objection to immunization.”

Religious beliefs are personal and sacred. In order to defend them against all who would challenge their sincerity, the individual must hold them sincerely. Those who choose to take the religious exemption to vaccination need to remember that.

An Interview with Dr. Elster: 2001 Researcher of the Year

Dr. Erin Elster: Improving Patient Care Through Research

As a young girl suffering from chronic, severe asthma, Erin Elster, D.C., sought relief from her symptoms that didn’t include inhalers, steroids or another visit to the emergency room. Her answer came from a visit to a chiropractor and an upper cervical adjustment.

Under this care, her asthma disappeared, starting her on a lifelong journey to learn more about upper cervical care and to spread the word to the rest of the world.

In 1996, Dr. Elster graduated magna cum laude from Palmer College of Chiropractic, then completed the postgraduate upper cervical training with the International Upper Cervical Chiropractic Association. She moved to Boulder, Colo., where she opened a solo practice using the upper cervical chiropractic technique.

In recent years, Elster has published research articles on upper cervical care and its effect on patients with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that have appeared in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, the Journal of Vertebral Subluxation Research and Today’s Chiropractic magazine.

In a recent interview, she described how chiropractic changed her life and what she wants to do as a chiropractor.

Why did you decide on a career in chiropractic?

Dr. Elster: Originally, as a child, I had some chiropractic care for some minor injuries. A good friend of my father’s was a chiropractor, so I went to him and had great results. So, immediately I had a good opinion of chiropractic. Later on, I had chronic asthma and allergies, despite the chiropractic care that I had. I eventually saw an upper cervical specialist, who discovered an upper cervical injury. Once I was under care, the asthma and allergies were corrected and never came back.

Then, I sent in my brother, who also had a severe health problem — ulcerative colitis — for almost 10 years. He also had his health completely corrected. Then, I sent in my father, who had a chronic low back situation. He had his back adjusted for years, which definitely kept him functioning, but it kept recurring fairly often. Once he was under upper cervical care as well, his problem went away. Since all three of us had such amazing results, I realized that there was really something amazing going on. So, I looked into it further and decided to become trained to help other people.

Was it difficult making the transition from student to chiropractor?

Dr. Elster: School trains you to practice a health-care procedure, but as far as the business aspects — all the details of setting up a practice and getting patients in the door — you have to figure it out on your own. The first thing I did, which was probably the hardest thing to do, was to go to a completely new place and start a practice on my own. The first year or two, I spent a lot of time doing speaking engagements and doing a lot of marketing, trying to spread the word about chiropractic, specifically upper cervical care. It was difficult but, eventually, as more people started getting phenomenal results, the word just spread. Now, my practice grows through word-of-mouth referrals.

How do you view chiropractic?

Dr. Elster: I think it has the ability to revolutionize world health care, in as far as how we care for patients and look for the causes of disease.

What do you like about being a chiropractor?

Dr. Elster: Basically, there is actually no more rewarding situation than to have a person come in that has been struggling for years with a chronic health problem, and for me to be able to examine them, find the problem in their spine, fix it and then see the person get better. Knowing that you really made a difference in somebody’s life, you just can’t beat that.

What research projects have you been involved in?

Dr. Elster: A lot of the work that I am doing (publishing papers and small research projects) stems from the fact that I am just trying to reaffirm the results that were achieved by B.J. Palmer back in the 1930s and 1940s using the same procedure. Unfortunately, most of his research wasn’t ever published. So, part of my goal has been to help bring the amazing results that are achieved by this procedure out to the chiropractic profession, the public and the medical profession.

A couple of my main projects have focused on multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. It is actually no surprise that these patients are responding to upper cervical care. In the medical literature they have already established that these two neurological diseases, as well as a variety of others, are being triggered in people after they sustain an injury to the head or neck region.

The medical doctors and researchers already know this, and we should know this in chiropractic, but we don’t. So, part of my research effort has been to show that if we can reverse these trauma-induced head and neck injuries, we can also reverse the neurological diseases that have been caused.

I have been almost the pioneer in certain areas, because there hasn’t been any research published before mine in the area of Parkinson’s disease and MS with chiropractic. My goal in publishing these few preliminary studies is to generate support and funding to do a much larger scale project.

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