What exactly is the "religious objection" to vaccinating children, and why are so many parents objecting for religious reasons? According to a New York Times article, the recent outbreak of measles is causing some states to take a hard look at that question. And one obvious answer is that allowing exemptions to childhood vaccination requirements for medical or religious reasons but not for personal beliefs leaves the door wide open for personal beliefs to become (conveniently) religious objections. After all, how can you disprove a religious objection? In truth, though, except for Christian Scientists there is virtually no valid canonical basis for a religious exemption to vaccinations in any of the world's major religions.

In a recent review of more than 60 reports of vaccine-preventable infectious disease outbreaks that started in religious communities, the author found that in many cases, "ostensibly religious reasons to decline immunization actually reflected concerns about vaccine safety or personal beliefs among a social network of people organized around a faith community." In other words, the religious exemption is being used by parents because it's what's available, not because it's especially valid.

It'll be interesting to see how state's childhood vaccination laws evolve regarding which exemptions are allowed and which are not.

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