For Immediate Release: August 25, 2020
Contact: Paul Fidalgo, Communications Director
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Today, lawmakers in Virginia acted to protect public health and uphold secular principles by rejecting legislation that would have created a dangerous and medically unjustifiable religious exemption to emergency immunization orders issued during a public health emergency.
Alerted to the bill’s introduction during a special emergency session of the Virginia State Legislature to address the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters of the Center for Inquiry in the commonwealth reached out to their representatives and urged them to scrap this bill and support science-based health policies. On August 25, the Virginia House Committee on Health, Welfare, and Institutions rejected H.B. 5016A with a narrow 10-11 vote.
Virginia law already allows a religious exemption to mandatory immunization of schoolchildren. However, during a public health emergency, the Commissioner of Health has the authority to require immunization of all medically eligible individuals. H.B. 5016A would have extended the scope of the state’s religious exemption to extraordinary pandemic emergencies such as COVID-19.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is a dire emergency that has already claimed the lives of at least 2,494 Virginians,” said CFI Director of Government Affairs Jason Lemieux. “This bill would have sabotaged Virginia’s ability to immunize its population—before a vaccine even exists—all so a few politicians can pretend to be defending religion from a threat that does not exist.”
“Virginia’s emergency immunization authority is a narrow, sensible, and compassionate law that protects Virginians of all faiths and no faith at all,” said Lemieux. “On behalf of Virginians who value science and the separation of church and state, we applaud the Health Committee for making the right choice (even if only by a single vote) to reject this legislation. Relying on science and evidence, lawmakers can now get back to the business of working together to relegate this virus to the dustbin of history where it belongs.”
The Center for Inquiry is rising to the challenge of the coronavirus era, leveraging our expertise and platforms to address the crisis from multiple angles. We’re dispelling misinformation, supporting science and evidence-based health policy, and confronting religious privilege that endangers all of us, and we’re collecting all of it at our Coronavirus Resource Center: Inoculation Against Misinformation.