Friday’s federal district court decision in Whitlow v. California upholds California’s repeal of the “personal belief exemption” to the vaccination requirement. The repeal doesn’t violate the Free Exercise Clause, the court concludes, because the vaccination mandate is a neutral law of general applicability. It doesn’t violate the Equal Protection Clause, because there’s a rational basis to the modest remaining exemptions (such as for children who are already in school, at least until they reach seventh grade). It doesn’t violate the right to education under the California Constitution; even assuming that this right triggers “strict scrutiny” of the repeal in this case, the mandate is narrowly tailored to a compelling government interest “in fighting the spread of contagious diseases through mandatory vaccination of school-aged children.” And it doesn’t violate parental rights or children’s rights to bodily integrity, because courts have long held that those rights must yield to the interest in preventing communicable disease.
The result sounds generally quite right to me. I do think that these requirements burden the presumptive parental rights to control their children’s medical treatment. But those rights have to be limited by the interest in preventing communicable disease and death — both for the sake of the vaccinated children themselves and for the sake of children (and adults) whom they might infect.
Thanks to Prof. Howard Friedman (Religion Clause) for the pointer.