NEW JERSEY — Outraged parents, a nonprofit, and social media combined to form a grassroots movement that defeated a controversial bill in the New Jersey Senate that would have ended the religious exemption rule for school vaccinations had Gov. Phil Murphy signed it.
But, the bill never made it to Murphy’s desk. Instead, support for it faltered in the Senate after the state Assembly passed it Jan. 9 by a 45 to 25 vote. The Senate decided not to vote on the bill.
The driving forces behind the bill’s defeat were vociferous crowds that assembled on the state capitol and the the work of the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice, a nonprofit that advocates for freedom of choice regarding healthcare decisions. According to the coalition, more than 40,000 New Jersey children and college students could have been removed from schools had the bill been signed into law.
The New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice (NJCVC) said that the bill was not about the New Jersey students’ health, the rights of children to an education, respect for religious rights, or the Constitutional separation of Church and State.
“This is about the government regulations the bodies of its citizens,” the NJCVC said in a news release. “This is about mandating pharmaceutical drugs from for-profit companies, which hold no liability for their products.”
State legislators heard loud and clear from opponents of the bill.
“I have never seen an issue that brought together grass-roots people like this,” said Senator Robert Singer, a Republican representing New Jersey’s 30th Legislative District. Singer told The New York Times he was bombarded with emails and phone calls from parents who said their kids would be hurt if they followed the required vaccination schedule. People were scared, he said.
Other politicians took to Twitter to express their opinions about the bill, including Assemblyman James Holley (D-Union)
“I’ve been totally against this bill from one day and now I am even more compelled to oppose,” Holley said in a tweet Jan. 11. “This includes bringing along my fellow members of the Assembly to vote against this discriminatory, unconstitutional, and an over reach of government.”
I've been totally against this bill from day one and now I am even more compelled to oppose. This includes bringing along my fellow Members of the Assembly to vote against this discriminatory, unconstitutional, and an over reach of government.
— Jamel Holley ♍🔌 (@jamelholley) January 11, 2020
But the fight over the bill is not over.
Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester), said the bill would be reintroduced and that he is “ready to go to war,” for it, NJ.com reported.
“We will pass this bill. This is about public health,” Sweeney said in the NJ.com report. “It’s about public health.”
Opponents of the bill are sure to continue their fight, just like they did when the Senate did not vote on the bill last week. Hundreds of protestors had descended upon the Statehouse before the vote, cheering after learning the Senate’s vote fizzled.
“Thank you, God!” they chanted from the Senate chamber, according to the report.
This was the jubilant reaction from the protesters in the state Senate gallery. pic.twitter.com/dHtxaiSpl6
— Brent Johnson (@johnsb01) January 13, 2020
Rumors were swirling before the Senate Health Committee voted on the bill that Sweeney would replace several long-standing members of the Senate’s Health Committee who support religious liberty and support maintaining the religious exemption with Senators who voted to repeal the religious exemption, the coalition said.
Sue Collins, co-founder of NJCVC, called the rumors about Sweeney’s actions to suppress opposition in his own party “a slap in the face to these families and the democratic process.”
By Daniel Hubbard, staff writer
Photo via Shutterstock