School expels two students after their mother refused to have them vaccinated on religious grounds
The school district rejected the family's argument that the expulsion violated their right of religious exemption, with the state supreme court also ruling in the former's favor.
Two teenage students were expelled from an upstate New York school for their refusal to be vaccinated on grounds of their family's religious beliefs. They had previously been suspended last November for the same, with their expulsion prompting the family to sue the school district in the state supreme court.
According to the Daily Mail, the two sisters, aged 13 and 15, were expelled "indefinitely" from a school under the jurisdiction of the Orchard Park School District (OPSD) this past week, with their mother Marina Williams alleging that her daughters' religious exemption hds been violated because it was against their "belief system for foreign substances such as vaccines to enter our bodies."
Court papers filed in the case revealed the family belongs to an evangelical congregation called the 'Temple of the Inner Flames Church.'
The church's reverend, a self-proclaimed "world-renown psychic" by the name of Carol Ann Liaros, is said to have sent the teens' school a letter asking for religious exemption, arguing that taking foreign substances like vaccinations are against their "Christian biblical instructions from God."
The OPSD rejected the request and said protecting the health of other students took greater priority to an individual's right to religious exemption, a decision backed by New York state law, which leaves the decision on the validity of religious exemption to the school district.
In a statement, Superintendent Matthew McGarrity wrote, "A school district has no duty more important than protecting the health, safety, and welfare of its students and staff. Ensuring that the immunization requirements under state law have been met is critical to carrying out this duty. The New York State Commissioner of Education has denied a request to allow un-immunized students living in the District to attend school while they seek an exemption to the State Public Health Law requirements."
Frank Housh, the family's attorney, however, had a different view of the events. "They simply told these kids you’re out of the district – we’re giving you no services and if you show up on school grounds, we are going to arrest you for trespass – that’s what they said," he claimed. "This isn't a vaccination lawsuit and my client is not an anti-vaxxer. The issue here is she is seeking to avail herself of a religious exception."
Housh also said that as the family awaits to hear back on its appeal with the state education department, the teens' schools refused to allow them to attend classes, give them school work, homework, or provide a tutor, resulting in the girls falling behind on their education.
"They didn't follow the law and they've continued to not follow the case," he said. "It's against the law and quite simply cruel to set these childrens' education lives back so far."
Marina Williams says she wasn’t surprised the judge ruled against her. pic.twitter.com/kQkJk5BfSA— Aaron Besecker (@AaronBesecker) February 15, 2019
But in the end, the state supreme court ruled in favor of the school district. The Buffalo News reported in a ruling on Friday, February 15, State Supreme Court Judge Mark J. Grisanti rejected Williams' request to force the district to temporarily admit her two children pending her appeal with the state education department.
Speaking after the ruling, Williams said she was not surprised and said defiantly that the decision to vaccinate her children should just be between her and God. "It should not be judged by anyone else," she was quoted saying. "It is no one’s business what religion I am. It’s between me and God."