Mother takes immunization fight to U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – West Virginia mother Jennifer Workman plans to seek relief at the U.S. Supreme Court from state law requiring immunization of her daughter.

The Rutherford Institute of Charlottesville, Va., announced on July 25 that she would petition for review of an appellate court decision in the state's favor.

A procedural error prevented the Supreme Court from filing the case as of July 28.

Workman asserts an exemption on religious grounds, and further argues that her older child suffers from disorders that began around the time of her vaccinations.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin of Charleston rejected her challenges to the law last year, and Fourth Circuit judges in Richmond affirmed him this March.

"Workman's constitutional challenges to the West Virginia statute requiring mandatory vaccination as a condition of attending school are without merit," they wrote.

They quoted a decision from 1905, that immunization law represented a valid exercise of a state's police power.

They quoted a decision from 1944, that free exercise of religion "does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death."

West Virginia law doesn't allow a religious exemption, but does allow an exemption if a doctor certifies that immunization would be impossible or improper.

Child psychiatrist John MacCallum signed a certificate for Workman in 2007, and Mingo County health officer Manolo Tampoya approved it.

County school superintendent David Dials sought an opinion from acting health and human resources secretary Cathy Slemp, who recommended that he deny the certificate.

In 2009, Workman sued the county board of education, Dials, and the Department of Health and Human Resources.

She stated that her Christian Bapticostal beliefs required her to protect her children from harm and illness.

Defendants moved for summary judgment, and Goodwin granted it.

Fourth Circuit judges found that Goodwin assumed the sincerity of Workman's religion but ruled that her beliefs didn't exempt her.

They rejected her argument that no compelling state interest exists because West Virginia vaccinates against diseases that aren't prevalent.

"On the contrary, the state's wish to prevent the spread of communicable diseases clearly constitutes a compelling interest," they wrote.

Patricia Finn of Piermont, N.Y., represents Workman in association with the Rutherford Institute.

In an interview on July 28, Finn said the Supreme Court didn't file the appeal notice because she had not previously appeared before the Court.

She said she thought she didn't have to enter an appearance because Rutherford Institute lawyers had previously appeared before the Court.

She said she graduated from West Virginia University.

"I am a Mountaineer," she said.

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