Note: New Jersey is one of many states attempting to eliminate or severely abridge parental and individual rights by changing existing laws to compel vaccination. This morning, several dozen parents and professionals are headed to Trenton to oppose S1147, a bill that makes it much more difficult for families to obtain a religious exemption to mandatory vaccination for their children. Feel free to use a version of this letter. Join your state group or start one. And sign up with NVIC’s Advocacy Portal.
March 9, 2015
Honorable members of the New Jersey state legislature:
My name is Louise Kuo Habakus. I am the founding director of the Center for Personal Rights, a radio host, and author of the bestselling book Vaccine Epidemic that upholds the human right to vaccination choice. I am a former C-level financial executive. I hold two degrees from Stanford University. I am testifying today as an American citizen, a New Jersey resident, and the parent of two children.
I strongly oppose S1147.
You have been told that you must support S1147 in order to protect the public health. What you have been told is wrong. This will not work. It will not make us more secure or safe.
Implementation will violate the U.S. Constitution
This bill abridges a foundational right. Freedom of religion. It is not possible to implement S1147 without violating the Constitution of the United States of America and the New Jersey State Constitution.
The Constitution and the Bill of Rights were not written foremost to empower our form of government. They were written to secure Liberty, Freedom, and Self-determination. They were written as a call for vigilance against the expanding scope of government power and to protect individual rights. Please fulfill your oath and responsibility as elected stewards to protect our religious rights upheld by the First Amendment and our citizenship rights upheld by the 14th Amendment.
People do not opt out of vaccination lightly. People opt out of vaccination for reasons that are at the core of who they are. These reasons define them. These reasons are the substance of what it means to be, for example, a parent or a religious person. These are reasons that are tied to self-determination and exercise of conscience, deep conviction, and fundamental beliefs that belong uniquely to them. The ability to exercise these rights is at the heart of what it means to be free.
The following paragraphs are from Article 1 of the New Jersey State Constitution:
3. No person shall be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor under any pretense whatever be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his faith and judgment; nor shall any person be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or other rates for building or repairing any church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right or has deliberately and voluntarily engaged to perform.
5. No person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil or military right, nor be discriminated against in the exercise of any civil or military right, nor be segregated in the militia or in the public schools, because of religious principles, race, color, ancestry or national origin.
There are many legitimate and deeply held reasons why some people refuse some or all vaccines. These reasons are intimately tied to the most basic definition of freedom. Today, we are discussing one such reason, the primacy of deeply and sincerely held religious beliefs or tenets that are violated by vaccination.
I oppose S1147 because:
#1: You can’t say what a religion must include or exclude
Religion is a set of beliefs about the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe. We are entitled to our religious tenets and to worship, observe, and express devotion in the manner of our choosing. There is no hierarchy of religions. All religions are equal. You are turning a submission into an application that can be denied. Once you start to define it in order to say what will not be accepted, you’re on shaky ground. Which religious beliefs are more legitimate than others? Who gets to decide?
#2: You can’t prohibit religious beliefs from addressing issues of safety
Some religious principles, customs, and behaviors are and have always been based in ideas about health, safety, cleanliness, and bodily integrity. Why do certain religions eschew pork or beef, or keep Kosher?
Many vaccines contain porcine and bovine gelatin. The following childhood childhood vaccines are produced on human cell lines (WI-38 and MRC-5) originated from terminated pregnancies: MMR, Varivax, Pentacel, Havrix, Vaqta, Twinrix, and ProQuad. Should people find these substances repugnant for religious reasons, should they be compelled to inject them into their and their children’s bodies?
#3: You can’t say that religious beliefs must be held in a certain way
Freedom is a beautiful thing. Freedom of religion is just that. How can you require a sworn statement that our religious beliefs are “continuously held”? The Constitution doesn’t say you have to pick one and stick with it forever. Nor does it say that tenets can’t change. People change their religion for many valid reasons; for example, a husband may take a wife’s religion after marriage, or vice versa.
#4: You can’t require someone else to sign off on my religious beliefs
It is not appropriate to have physicians signing off on non-medical exemptions to make them legitimate. Their religious beliefs don’t concern me and mine don’t concern them. A doctor doesn’t have any business signing off on my personal religious principles.
#5: You are discriminating against religious families
This law targets and demands additional burdens of religious families. Why should we be required to take these actions? The requirement for additional doctor’s visits and notary services adds unnecessary expense to already stretched households. It privileges the affluent.
#6: Implementation will be a nightmare
From a pragmatic perspective, passage of S1147 will require government to:
• approve bona fide religious sincerity;
• track and monitor people, and respond to violations;
• levy and enforce penalties, consequences, and fines;
• recruit and train people to undertake these activities.
It will make day care centers and schools into battlegrounds. It will turn neighbors and friends and colleagues against each other. It will drive families underground for information and support. It will turn us into a police state in the name of … safety and health?
Is this really what you want for us?
Don’t conflate the issues. Don’t hijack the Constitution to address a product failure, a policy failure, and a public confidence failure.
You are trying to solve a problem by creating an even bigger problem.
You are trying to address secular matters of medicine and science through religion in the absence of a public health emergency. Worst of all, it won’t work.
This next part of my letter does not relate to the aforementioned bills. But it is at the core of the problem you are trying to solve.
You have different levers at your disposal
If you are concerned about the public health, there are important things you can do. But you must start with a basic reality. The bottom line is that today’s vaccines are not safe products. Not everyone makes the same risk-benefit calculus.
If you want more people to vaccinate, you must address the root causes of their concerns and these are safety, transparency, accountability, and justice.
- Call for NIH grants and other funding to research making better products
- Enforce zero tolerance of conflicts of interest.
- Acknowledge that vaccine injury and death are real.
- Call for a federal requirement for informed consent relating to vaccination.
- Restore due process and full legal recourse.
- Repeal the portion of the 1986 Vaccine Act that extends virtual blanket liability protection to those who make and administer vaccines.
Let the checks and balances work. Only then can trust and public confidence return.
Prophetic words of Dr. Benjamin Rush
The following quote is attributed to Dr. Benjamin Rush who was George Washington’s personal physician, America’s first Surgeon General, member of the Continental Congress, signatory of the Declaration of Independence, and the only medical doctor to assist in the drafting of the Constitution of the United States:
“The Constitution of this Republic should make special provision for medical freedom. To restrict the art of healing to one class will constitute the Bastille of medical science. All such laws are un-American and despotic…Unless we put medical freedom into the Constitution; the time will come when medicine will organize into an undercover dictatorship and force people, who wish doctors and treatments of their own choice, to submit to only what the dictating outfit offers. The Constitution of the Republic should make a Special provision for medical freedoms as well as religious freedom.”
It’s a call for political leadership
This is the real challenge. It’s not an “anti-vaxxer” problem. It’s a call for political leadership.
Start there and work in good faith with us, your constituents. Don’t take away our rights and compromise the very foundation of who we are, as individuals and as a free society.
Louise Kuo Habakus
Update 3/27: S1147 / A1931 were not posted for a vote this month and the legislature is now on “budget break” for at least several weeks. The Assembly hasn’t yet announced when it will be back in session. The Senate doesn’t meet until 5/18. While it’s still a big mystery who called for this intrusive and discriminatory bill when over 95% of NJ’s students are vaccinated and there are no outbreaks let alone hospitalizations or deaths, it is very clear that it’s being fast-tracked. The New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice exhorts citizens to write, call, and schedule meetings with their legislators during April.
Update 3/25: NJ parents thank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. for visiting our state capitol today for a full day or meetings with lawmakers and a press conference. Bobby has serious concerns about removing from parents their ultimate right to choose whether to vaccinate their children and transferring that authority to state and federal officials. His concerns are particularly acute at this time because of the troubling ethical breaches that have embroiled the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in scandal. He is traveling across the country to meet with lawmakers, address the press, speak with parents, and screen a new documentary film called Trace Amounts that provides additional detail supporting his message.
Update 3/18: Focus is on the Assembly. The NJ Coalition for Vaccination Choice prepared a list of action steps, which are also summarized on Facebook here:
NJ’s proposed bill will effectively mandate vaccination for virtually all students. If it passes, it will be immediately applicable. There are no provisions for “spreading them out.” The only assumption that can be made is that students will be required to catch up on all their vaccines if they are denied an exemption. NJ has among the most vaccines mandated for day care and school of any state in the country.
The full Assembly could vote on A1931 as early as Thu 3/26. Our collective goal is to meet with as many Assembly members as possible between now and Wed 3/25. Your job is to meet with your 2 Assemblypeople:
- Let them know if you will vote based on this issue. The entire Assembly is up for election in Nov so they are paying attention.
- Let your 2 Assemblypeople know A1931 is expected to be voted on on 3/26 and that you have several concerns. Ask for a meeting. If you can’t schedule a meeting, ask to speak with the Chief of Staff or Legislative Aide and ask again. (Get names.) Find out when the legislators are in the office.
- If you can’t meet, do two things. First, fax a letter outlining your position. Share a personal story. Second, take a few friends and stop by the district office when the Assembly member is in. Ask if it’s possible to have a minute or two to meet with him/her. Try to get a photo taken! If not, leave a fact sheet with your name and full contact info written on it.
- Meeting prep: Google, go to their website, find out something about them or another bill they’re engaged with that you can use in conversation. Get familiar with the text of A1931. Highlight the problematic parts. Dress appropriately, business casual. It’s absolutely OK to bring kids.
- Meeting: Introduce yourself and why you are there (you have several concerns about A1931/S1147, the legislation that will effectively eliminate the religious exemption to vaccination in NJ). Tell a personal story, why the religious exemption is important to your family. A personal connection is important. Ask to take a photo with him/her. Don’t worry if you can’t answer their questions. Write them down and say you will follow up. It’s not your role to argue about vaccine science and vaccination for all of humanity. This is about your family and religious liberty. Ask why such a heavy handed and intrusive bill is being advanced when 95.3% of NJ students are vaccinated, only 1.7% take a religious exemption, and there are no epidemics of deadly disease. See below; can you get the legislator to agree with problems with the bill? Listen carefully. Try to keep the door open for future meetings.
Points to consider covering based on your and your legislator’s views:
- How will this bill be implemented? Who will judge where religious beliefs fit the bill criteria? What are the criteria? What if beliefs are deemed unacceptable by a State Authority? Religious beliefs should not be conflated with religion. Raise the idea of vaccination police and ask who’s going to pay for it.
- Have you ever made a medical, parenting, or religious decision that went against expert opinion? Where should the state draw the line? What protections will be put into place to ensure the state doesn’t go too far? What freedoms are you willing to give up? Is the urgency truly so great? Give the measles data in this post.
- Children are entitled to a free public education paid for through our tax dollars. Who will pay to educate these children? Will parents be held in contempt of the law? Will children be removed and forcibly vaccinated? Will you involve CPS? Are parents at risk of going to jail? What about children with special needs? How will their services be provided if they are not permitted in school? Are parents expected to quit their jobs and homeschool?
- How can you require citizens to make a sworn statement and notarize their private, deeply held religious beliefs in order to “apply” for something that is already their inalienable right to have and hold?
- The NJ State Constitution and the US Constitution provide for freedom of religion. What type of lawsuits is the state opening itself up to? Will schools be sued? Who will pay for legal costs? How will these lawsuits protect people’s private religious, medical, and parental affairs? 9,000 families currently take a religious exemption — can the state and our schools handle 9,000 lawsuits?
- The bill is technical and confusing. It has the potential to discriminate against citizens for whom English is not their first language or citizens who may not have the educational background to grasp what is at stake. What efforts and resources will be allocated to address this?
- Many parents may be forced to obtain legal counsel to satisfy these new requirements. What happens to families without the resources to do this?
Update 3/17: My OpEd that appeared in The Bergen Record, one of NJ’s two largest papers: Why we object to mandatory vaccination measure.
Update 3/16, 5pm: Over 400 NJ parents and professionals gathered on very short notice at our state capital today to oppose a new Assembly bill that proposes to gut the religious exemption and effectively mandate vaccination for virtually all children. No matter; 300 people were enough in Oregon but not NJ.
Despite the impassioned, compelling, and articulate testimony of over 100 who took the microphone to voice strong opposition, plus the hundreds who oppose the bill but declined to testify in the interest of time, the Health Committee voted to move the bill to the full Assembly.
- Chairman Herb Conaway changed A1931 to match S1147 with no public notice.
- He granted each person just 60 sec to speak.
- He left the room with certain committee members for a long period of time without explanation.
- He would not allow me to discuss conflicts of interest or the Merck lawsuit brought by 2 whistleblower employees alleging Merck engaged in fraud to preserve its mumps vaccine monopoly.
- He did not express any acknowledgement of the extraordinary presence of many hundreds who showed up… filling all 80 chairs, plus 175 standing in the back, along both sides of the room, spilling out the door, and another 150+ in a large overflow room.
- He had a warden block the entry and didn’t allow people to re-enter (i.e., to use the restroom). Many people in the overflow room did not receive a slip of paper to document their presence and opposition to the bill.
- Only 3 testified in support of the bill.
- Committee members looked anxious and tense. There was very little discussion
- Asw Jimenez deceived her constituents, saying she would oppose this bill (she voted in favor).
- Asm Eustice and Asm Green both expressed support to parents. They abstained.
- Thank you, Asm Peterson — the sole member to vote in opposition.
- Can you imagine what goes on behind closed doors in the Pharma capital of the world?
- Trenton has not made a case for compelling state interests that may trump our cherished religious freedoms.
The situation in NJ is grim. There are now companion Assembly and Senate bills that have moved out of committee and headed for both houses.
I can’t impress strongly enough what is at stake. The NJ legislature wants to pass a law so it can determine who’s religiously sincere for the express purpose of increasing vaccine compliance.
Who will stand in judgment of those who stand in judgment? Implementation of this bill will destroy who we are and what we stand for.
As other states have done, concerned citizens are gathering their people and making their voices heard. They are organizing by legislative district, and contacting their State Senator and 2 Assemblypeople. They are requesting meetings, telling their personal stories, and explaining why they find this bill abhorrent.
Fantastic turnout today in Trenton. Thank you to everyone who showed up today. Photos here for those on Facebook. Stay tuned.
Update 3/16, 7am: Today, hundreds of parents and professionals are planning to testify on A1931, a bill to restrict the religious exemption to vaccination in New Jersey on Monday, March 16, 2015 at 10:00 am in the Committee Rm 11, 4th floor State House Annex. A1931 requires a written statement “explaining how the administration of the vaccine conflicts with the bona fide religious tenets or practices of the student, or the parent or guardian.” As such, it requires that parents justify their deeply held personal and private religious beliefs to the government for approval. This bill is designed to make it more difficult for parents to obtain an exemption. A1931 is discriminatory because the state will determine what is and is not a legitimate religious belief. This sets the stage for the unfair application of its dictates for people of various faiths.
Update 3/12: Our legislature is fast-tracking its efforts to tighten the religious exemption. The Assembly Health Committee just announced that it is hearing A1931 on Monday 3/16 at 10am in Committee Room 11, 4th floor, State House Annex. Please call and fax Committee members and plan to testify in Trenton.
Update 3/9, 5pm: After three hours of incredibly intense, impassioned, angry, tearful testimony presented by over 50 people, the vast majority opposed to this bill, NJ’s Senate Health Committee voted to tighten the religious exemption by advancing this bill to the full Senate. The vote was 5-2 in favor. The outcome belies the extraordinary and heartfelt testimony on the part of some of the most courageous, articulate, and compelling parents, activists, and professionals I have the privilege to know.
Thank you to Senators Ronald L. Rice (D) and Diane M. Addiego (R) whose forthright and compassionate comments reached across the aisle to show this is a non-partisan issue. Sen Rice moved to NJ in 1955 from the segregated South. He said: “Many of my colleagues don’t have the passion or the history. They don’t understand.” Sen Addiego spoke of the fears she had when she vaccinated her daughter. She looked at us and said: “I support you.” They understand the issues and what is at stake. Their comments give me hope.