H.B. No. 5044 (Raised) An Act Concerning Immunizations (the “bill”) proposes to eliminate the religious exemption to vaccination. This proposal has become a perennial favorite, notwithstanding that it perennially fails to gain traction. I strongly encourage legislators to allow it to fail again this term.
Much ink has been spilled discussing the constitutionality of mandatory inoculation programs, from the original U.S. Supreme Court precedent in Jacobson to various federal appellate decisions in more recent years. However unwise it may be to extend the legal reasoning supporting emergency action to curtail a turn of the 20th century effort to suppress a smallpox epidemic to all manner of immunizations, such narrow inquiries miss the broader points.
First and foremost, as a broad matter, no one is better positioned to make decisions regarding the safety, health, and well-being of their children than are their parents. When government seeks to intrude on this decision-making, its grounds should be clear, compelling, narrow, and accountable. The bill fails on at least the latter two of these points, extending well beyond the free public primary and secondary schools guaranteed by the Constitution of the State of Connecticut, and delegating most of the important mandatory immunization determinations to a commission the members of which are not elected by Connecticut voters.
The bill goes well beyond a slippery slope – it represents a path that, once traveled, may prove impossible to retrace. Where is the line between what a consort of unelected Mandarins would prefer that we or our children do and what is actually necessary to prevent an epidemic of contagion? No one knows, least of all the bill sponsor. And the bill proposing to absolve the legislature of responsibility for such decisions, to whom may we turn to draw that important line? Certainly not our State Attorney William Tong, who lacks the backbone to draw such a line in the face of his party, and may well lack the ability to articulate such a line in the first place.
One can and should quibble about the appropriate balance between the state’s police power and its citizen’s religious and other freedoms, because that balance of competing freedoms is inherently important to the existence and livelihood of our state. But wherever one finds that balance, the usurping exercise of police power should be exercised by elected officials accountable to their electorate. Moreover, those elected officials should take great care to exercise only so much of that police power as is absolutely necessary to achieve its compelling interest in health and well-being.
Any greater liberties taken with such powers necessarily imperil the liberties otherwise enjoyed by our fellow citizens, and that should give all of us great pause.
Irina Comer is a Republican candidate for State Representative, 142nd District, which represents parts of Norwalk and New Canaan.