Public Law

Public Law Journal: Fall 2015, Vol. 38, No. 4

Santa Brought Measles: California’s 2014 Measles Outbreak and the Constitutionality of Mandates and Religious Exemptions

By Tilman Heyer*


One 2014 holiday season Disneyland parkgoer brought something other than Christmas spirit with them: measles. This outbreak, which ended April 2015, infected 157 individuals, 131 of which were California residents.1 Vaccination mandates became a prominent issue in political discourse. Public attention focused on anti-vaccination activists, and state lawmakers responded to this public health risk. In response, state Senators Richard Pan and Ben Allen drafted SB 277. After some public debate, Governor Brown signed the bill into law on June 30, 2015.

SB 277 strengthens public school vaccine mandates for many diseases. Prior to SB 277, personal belief exemptions were allowed with physician’s signature.2 Only a parent signature was required for a religious exemption.3 SB 277 eliminates personal belief and religious exemptions from all existing school vaccine requirements, leaving only the medical exemption.4 Some citizens and lawmakers have voiced concern that SB 277 infringes on religious freedom,5 and the ACLU has cautioned that other fundamental rights may be infringed.6 California now joins Mississippi and West Virginia in eliminating personal belief and religious exemptions, and many other states are considering doing the same.7 SB 277 is likely to spawn legal challenges once it is implemented.

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