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Judge Backs Parents on Immunizations
August 21, 2001 

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A federal judge has approved an agreement barring the state from holding hearings to determine whether parents who object to immunizations for their children have sincere religious convictions about the issue.

U.S. District Judge William Downes approved the settlement Aug. 8 between the Wyoming Department of Health and several parents.

Wyoming officials had made hepatitis B vaccination shots mandatory for entry into the public school system. But some parents refused, saying they objected on religious grounds, and argued that administrative hearings held to determine their sincerity about the issue violated their constitutional right to freedom of religion.

The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in favor of the parents in March, saying such hearings are illegal.

Debbie Cooper, who has three young children, said Tuesday that she was pleased that the issue had also been approved by the federal judge.

"I think most parents kind of have an instinct for what is best for their children," she said.

Steven H. Aden, a lawyer for the Rutherford Institute, a Washington, D.C., civil rights organization which aided the parents, said the hearings probably marked the first time in American history in which a state required residents to prove their "religious sincerity."

"We thought that had gone the way of the Inquisition," he said. The state Health Department had made the vaccinations mandatory, contending it had a duty to protect children from disease and that too many non-immunized children would endanger other children.

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