The Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has gathered greater than 14,500 signatures from citizens who object to language in a new form Colorado parents must complete to obtain immunization exemptions for their children.
Colorado parents who choose not to immunize their children may submit to their child’s school a request for medical, personal, or religious exemption. The Colorado Department of Education mandates non-public homeschooling parents keep immunization and immunization exemption records and provide them to the school district that received the notification of homeschooling upon the district’s request.
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) in June created a new form for those seeking nonmedical immunization exemptions. The form requires parents to sign a statement that includes the following: “Failure to follow the advice of a physician, registered nurse, physician’s assistant, or public health official who has recommended vaccines may endanger my child’s, my health, or life [sic] and others who come into contact with my child/me.”
HSLDA sent a letter in August to CDPHE saying the form violates the First Amendment because it contains compelled speech.
“This form contains language that requires those filling out the form to either explicitly or implicitly assent to viewpoints with which they do not agree,” the letter stated.
As of August 22, HSLDA had collected 14,600 signatures for a petition urging Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) to “stop unconstitutional vaccine requirements that compel speech and threaten parental rights.”
HSLDA reports the Colorado attorney general’s office told them it had received the letter and CDPHE is “researching the issue.”
‘An Unconstitutional Burden’
Mike Donnelly, an HSLDA attorney, says the CDPHE is overstepping its authority.
“You can’t make people agree to something that they don’t agree with in order to exercise their lawful rights,” Donnelly said. “People in Colorado have a lawful right to exempt their children from immunizations for either religious or personal reasons. The state has no discretion. It’s a right people have. The state is putting an obstacle in their way that is an unconstitutional burden.”
State Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), chair of the Senate Committee for Health and Human Services and a homeschooling parent, says he’s concerned about the state imposing its views on people.
“I’m not totally opposed to vaccinations, but I am opposed to the state forcing on every family their protocol of what those vaccinations should be and when they should be administered,” Lundberg said. “And I’m opposed also to the department requiring this form that has this compulsory speech in it.
“They don’t want to give parents choice,” Lundberg said. “Public health officials far too often want to force everybody to do what they think is best, not what a family may know is better for their family.”
Bill to Grant Authority Failed
In 2015, state Rep. Dan Pabon (D-Denver) introduced House Bill 1164. The bill stated it would “require parents or students to submit the [immunization exemption] documentation to the Department of Public Health and Environment instead of the school.” HB 1164 failed to advance out of the state’s House.
Lundberg says HB 1164 was supposed to give CDPHE the authority to do what it’s now doing.
“They sought the authority to do it after the fact, and then when they failed to get the authority, they pursued it anyway and insisted they didn’t need the authority in the first place,” Lundberg said.
‘Could Be Used Against People’
Donnelly says people are worried signing the form could come back to haunt them.
“We are concerned that the person signing the exemption form in its current form is [making] a statement that could be used against people, either in subsequent criminal or civil action against them, including allegations of medical neglect, which may be related to the choice not to vaccinate where they are acknowledging risk that they don’t agree with,” Donnelly said.
Fran Sincere, president of the Colorado Coalition for Vaccine Choice, says people are also concerned about submitting the form online.
“By submitting this form online, their data gets entered into the CIIS—the Colorado Immunization Information System—and once that information is in there, the department and/or the schools can use that information in any way they want, because it’s made available to them by the parents,” Sincere said.
‘4.5 Million Names’ in System
Lundberg says the CIIS monitors more than just students.
“It’s supposedly for students, but there was an audit of their system done by the state auditor [in 2015], and they found that 4.5 million people are in this registry system,” Lundberg said. “Now, Colorado’s a state of 5.2 million people total, and they have 4.5 million names on that registry system that’s supposed to be keeping track of students who are vaccinated? In fact, it’s a registry system of as many people in Colorado that they can get their hands on.”
Lundberg says a person can opt out of the CIIS, but those who do are not removed from the system and are instead put on a different list.
“Those who want to avoid being in the data system end up being on the list in the data system of those who want to avoid being in the data system,” Lundberg said. “They’ve been building this system for years. Anytime somebody interfaces with a hospital, a clinic, a doctor, or a school clinic, they are to be checked against the CIIS, and they are to be put in the CIIS unless you specifically opt out every time you interface with the system. It’s kind of this data-collection-hungry program to track all immunizations in the State of Colorado.”
Elizabeth BeShears ([email protected]) writes from Trussville, Alabama.
Michael P. Donnelly and Shaun Pearman, “RE: Immunization Non-Medical Exemption Form,” Homeschool Legal Defense Association, August 9, 2016: https://heartland.org/publications-resources/publications/hslda-letter-regarding-colorado-immunization-exemption-form