What’s so special about ‘religious belief’?

_80407506_178100803Source: The Washington Post

Correction: A previous version of this op-ed misidentified the diocese that voted to ban the use of the masculine pronoun to refer to God as the U.S. Episcopal Diocese. It was the Episcopal church in the Diocese of Washington that passed the resolution. The spelling of Rockland County, N.Y., Attorney Thomas Humbach’s name has also been updated.

Kate Cohen is an Albany, N.Y., writer.


Controversy accompanied the start of the school year here in New York. The state, responding to a serious measles outbreak, removed religious exemptions from its law requiring schoolchildren to be vaccinated. More than 26,000 unvaccinated children attended school last year due to their parents’ “sincere and genuine religious beliefs.” Now, unless those kids get vaccinated, they can’t go to school.

Some of their parents have held protests, with signs reading “Let the parents call the shots,” “Hands off my kids” and “Your vote kicked me out of preschool and my mommy can’t go to work,” which is pretty impressive writing for a preschooler.

None of these signs sport Bible verses or Talmudic sayings forbidding vaccination. In fact, protesters decrying the repeal of the religious exemption rarely mention religion, probably because there is little official religious opposition to immunization. “Religious belief” was probably the easiest way around the law, the “abracadabra” that made the problem go away.

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