SHB 1638 excerpt

With the passage of HB 1638 removing the personal/philosophical exemption to the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella vaccine (MMR), questions have arisen regarding the other two exemptions available to families who had previously utilized the personal philosophical/exemption. On this page, we clarify the two remaining exemptions and the requirement that child care centers and schools accept those exemptions without question.

At the bottom of this page you will find printable PDFs you can share with your child care, school, and parents.

Please Note:

  • the personal/philosophical exemption remains for all other vaccines on the childcare and school schedule
  • the medical and religious exemptions remain unchanged for all vaccines, including the MMR.
  • families who previously utilized the personal/philosophical exemption may choose instead either the religious or medical exemption for their child(ren), whichever best fits the needs of their child(ren) and their personally held religious beliefs

Families who exempt from one or more vaccines most often have multiple reasons for doing so. Those reasons may include personal, religious, and medical.

Medical Exemptions are signed by a health care practitioner (MD, ND, PA, ARNP), stating that a particular vaccine or vaccines required by rule of the state board of health is, in his or her judgment, not advisable for the child.

Religious Exemptions are also signed by a health care practitioner (MD, ND, PA, ARNP), stating that the practitioner has spoken to the parent/guardian about risks and benefits of vaccination. Every citizen has the right to a religious exemption if vaccination violates their personal religious beliefs.

In Exec. Order No. 13798 § 4, 82 Fed. Reg. 21675 (May 4, 2017), the United States Attorney General wrote:

The freedom of religion is a fundamental right of paramount importance, expressly protected by federal law.

Religious liberty is enshrined in the text of our Constitution and in numerous federal statutes. It encompasses the right of all Americans to exercise their religion freely, without being coerced to join an established church or to satisfy a religious test as a qualification for public office. It also encompasses the right of all Americans to express their religious beliefs, subject to the same narrow limits that apply to all forms of speech. In the United States, the free exercise of religion is not a mere policy preference to be traded against other policy preferences. It is a fundamental right.

The free exercise of religion includes the right to act  or abstain from action  in accordance with one’s religious beliefs.

The Free Exercise Clause protects not just the right to believe or the right to worship; it protects the right to perform or abstain from performing certain physical acts in accordance with one’s beliefs. Federal statutes, including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (“RFRA”), support that protection, broadly defining the exercise of religion to encompass all aspects of observance and practice, whether or not central to, or required by, a particular religious faith.

Therefore, anyone may claim a religious exemption from vaccination if they object due to their own, personally-held religious beliefs as they themselves define them. No church membership or explanation of their beliefs is required.

Note: A medical practitioner’s signature is not required on a religious exemption if a parent/guardian demonstrates membership in a religious body or a church in which the religious beliefs or teachings of the church preclude a health care practitioner from providing medical treatment to the child. There is a section on the exemption form to declare such membership.

Informed Choice Washington has received written verification from the Department of Health regarding the unchanged status of religious exemptions, and the revised Washington State exemption form will confirm it. Schools who interpret the law in any other way and attempt to question the validity of a deeply held personal belief in choosing to exercise a religious exemption are in violation of the law. It is completely within the legal right of any family in the State of Washington to exercise their personal religious belief regarding vaccination without question.

When notifying families of vaccination requirements, information about all exemptions must be included. Informed Choice Washington will investigate any reports of the failure to provide appropriate information regarding exemption rights.

If you have any questions, please email contact@informedchoicewa.org. Our organization shares your goal in ensuring that all children of our state remain healthy and are able to access education, as is their right.

Below are letters for schools, parents, and providers, that you can print and share, as well as a letter to the Seattle Catholic Archdiocese.

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