A family in New York is fighting for the rights of parents to opt their children out of vaccines.
Ron and Rita Palma of Bayport, New York, have been fighting for the right to opt their children out of the vaccines that public schools require children have before attending school. Parents are allowed to opt out of the medical requirement if they cite objections on religious grounds. The Palmas did so, citing their Catholic faith as a reason, but they were met with resistance from the Bayport-Blue Point Union Free School District. Rita Palma explains. "I handed in my letter, handed in my application, and they called me in and insisted that I come in for a face-to-face interview," she shares. "Now I know other people in the community who have gone through this, so I talked to some lawyers. I knew that they [school officials] were within their legal boundaries, and I really didn't think that it was going to be all that much of a problem. You know, my feelings were true, my beliefs fit squarely with the law -- so I complied." But Palma says she and her husband were grilled for two hours by the school's attorney, David Cohen. She refers to the session as a "sincerity interview." Following is an excerpt from that meeting:
Cohen: "If you believe God is on your side, does that mean he's not on the side or can he be on the side of somebody who believes in immunization?" Rita: "Mr. Cohen, I wouldn't know. I know my deepest, most spiritual beliefs. I don't know the belief system of others and..." Ron: "And nor do we control God." Rita: "Yeah." Cohen: "Okay." Rita: "I wouldn't know."
Rita says the attorney concluded that her beliefs were not "sincere" enough and decided to deny her vaccine waiver. She is now taking her fight to the New York State Capitol. Videos of the Palmas' session with Cohen are available on YouTube (Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3) (view all three parts).
In an interview with OneNewsNow, Rita Palma claims David Cohen, the school's attorney, tried to intimidate her in the questioning process. "He has been named in enough publications where I'm sure he has experienced some pressure -- and some not-so-nice pressure -- from other sources criticizing his actions," she says. "My assemblywomen actually wrote a letter to my school district...criticizing their actions." Rita is currently working with state lawmakers to pass New York Bill A00883, which would amend existing law to ban so-called "religious sincerity tests." "Rather than appeal this decision, the route that I chose to take is to change the law," says Rita. "[I hope] to really compel school districts to accept the [opt-out] letter at face value, and make it illegal for school districts to close the door and ask you what your belief system is all about." Rita is also working to help pass New York Bill A00880, a bill that would make medical waivers accepted at face value. According to Rita, she handed the school a medical waiver from her doctor that would exempt her son from vaccines, but the school rejected that as well. OneNewsNow asked Rita if she had considered private school or home school. She replied that her children really like their current teachers, and apart from the vaccine issue they have no complaints. Rita also explains that private school would put undue financial pressure on the family; but if they do decide to switch schools, she wants the choice to be hers -- and not something the public school forces them to do because of the vaccine issue. Rita operates the website MyKidsMyChoice.com, which assists parents who also wish to opt out of childhood vaccines.