Ruling Threatens Health and Safety of Mississippi Children and Teachers

In an astonishing move last week, a federal judge nullified a Mississippi Supreme Court ruling and a long-standing Mississippi law that prioritizes the health and safety of thousands of Mississippi children over the religious preferences of a few.

In 1979, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled that the overriding obligation of the State is “The protection of the great body of school children attending the public schools in Mississippi against the horrors of crippling and death,” and that “To the extent that it may conflict with the religious beliefs of a parent, however sincerely entertained, the interests of the school children must prevail.”

Now, in response to a lawsuit funded by an out-of-state interest group, U.S. District Judge Sul Ozerden has ruled that the choices of a few parents who do not want to vaccinate their children and who want the right to send their unvaccinated children into our classrooms must be allowed to imperil the lives of medically fragile public school children and teachers and the unborn children of educators and school employees.

Judge Ozerden has issued a preliminary injunction halting the enforcement of our state’s vaccination law and has instructed the Mississippi Department of Health to develop an immunization exemption for any parent who declines to vaccinate his or her child as a religious preference.

While one might reasonably expect such a dangerous and unprecedented ruling to be overturned, that is complicated by the fact that Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who is charged with defending our state laws, has shirked that duty and declined to defend the Mississippi statute requiring immunizations for public school children. You may contact AG Fitch at 601.359.3680.

The responsibility for protecting our children now rests with the Mississippi Department of Health.

Please contact State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney and urge him to intervene in this lawsuit to protect the health and wellbeing of Mississippi public school children and teachers.

Dr. Edney: 601.576.7400

See the public statement on this matter issued by The Parents’ Campaign.

We are grateful to our state’s pediatricians and the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics for their strong condemnation of Judge Ozerden’s decision. You canĀ find the MSAAP statement here.

Mississippi has been lauded as a national model because of our impressive record on childhood immunizations. Our strong law has yielded a span of 20 years without a case of measles, while states that allow nonmedical exemptions have seen a frightening reemergence of measles and polio.

The lives and health of our children should be the highest priority of our state, and Judge Ozerden’s ruling to the contrary is unconscionable, as is AG Fitch’s complicity. As stated by our own State Supreme Court in its 1979 ruling, “The relationship of parent and child is one in which the law concerns itself more with parental duties than with parental rights.” It is especially absurd to assume that the religious preferences of one parent should supersede the right to life and safety of the rest of our children.

We urge Dr. Edney and the Mississippi Department of Health to intervene in this case to protect the children and teachers in our public schools.

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