By James Fanelli, DNAinfo Reporter/Producer
WEST BRIGHTON — A devout Catholic mom is suing the city Department of Education for not granting her 5-year-old daughter a religious exemption from vaccinations.
Dina Check claims in a lawsuit filed Tuesday in Brooklyn Federal Court that having her child immunized shows "a lack of faith in God and His way" and the Education Department's denial is a slap at her beliefs and her First Amendment rights.
“I think they made a mistake. The parents are entitled to the exemption,” Check’s lawyer, Patricia Finn, told DNAinfo.com New York.
Check’s daughter was barred Tuesday from attending class at P.S. 35 The Clove Valley School after officials denied her initial request and later appeals for the exemption. The lawsuit says the denial was an about-face since the little girl had been granted an exemption the previous two years when she attended a YMCA education program.
In her exemption request to school officials, Check described herself as a Bible-reading, church-going Catholic who believes “life is a gift from God and the body is a marvelous work of divine creation to be reverenced as a temple of God.”
“To inject invasive and unnatural substances into this divine creation is showing a lack of faith in God and His way,” Check wrote.
In their denial, school officials said she did not substantiate that she holds a “genuine and sincere religious beliefs which are contrary to immunization.”
Check says her daughter also qualifies for a medical exemption from immunization since the young girl suffers from gastrointestinal problems. The lawsuit claims that before classes started this year, a school nurse erred by initially processing a medical exemption for Check’s daughter. School officials turned down the medical request, even though she always intended to seek an exemption based religious beliefs, the lawsuit say.
When Check re-applied under religious beliefs, officials said she only did so after losing on medical grounds, the lawsuit claims.
Nationally, the number of parents opting out of vaccinations has grown in popoularity. A 2011 Associated Press report found that more than half of U.S. states have had slight rises in the rate of exemptions in the past five years — with highest in the Northwest.
The New York state Health Department and the city Education Department did not immediately return a request for information on exemption rates. But Finn said her firm has represented hundreds of families in the city in exemption fights.
According to state law, public school children must be vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, polio and other illnesses.
The lawsuit seeks an exemption on religious grounds. Finn is also seeking a temporary restraining order allowing the little girl to attend school.