Immunizations + religious exemptions: Funny thing happens when Washington Post writes about this

OK, I lied.

A funny thing didn’t really happen when the Washington Post wrote about child immunizations and religious exemptions.

But I had to try some way to get you to read a serious post that doesn’t involve white evangelical support of President Donald Trump … or sex abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention … or other, juicier, culture-war topics that seem to drive traffic in the social-media age.

What actually happened is good news, except that positive posts don’t usually turn viral — and hey, we’re all trying to get clicks.

However, since you’ve read this far, feel free to go ahead and consider this recent story — pulled from my guilt folder — by Sarah Pulliam Bailey, one of the Post’s award-winning religion writers and a former GetReligion contributor.

Bailey’s lede:

Recent measles outbreaks in states such as Washington, New York and New Jersey have cast a spotlight on a group of Americans who receive exemptions from immunizing their children on the grounds that the vaccines violate their religious freedoms.

Now the states that suffered outbreaks are taking aim at those exemptions. In recent weeks, lawmakers in the New JerseyNew YorkIowaMaine and Vermont state legislatures have proposed eliminating religious exemptions for vaccines. A Washington state representative has proposed tightening the state’s religious exemption while eliminating a separate law that allows for a personal or philosophical exemption from immunization.

Vaccination proponents and anti-vaccination activists are watching to see whether some states will follow California, which got rid of religious and personal exemptions for vaccines after a Disneyland-linked outbreak of measles that began in 2014. The only students there who can go without a vaccination without a doctor’s signature are those who are home-schooled.

Yes, this is a serious story by a serious journalist.

The best part? This is a journalist who gets religion (did I mention that she even used to write for this website?).

The deeper you get into the story, the more impressive the piece is in terms of strong reporting on the religion angle.

It’s nuanced, too:

Large majorities of Americans from all major religious groups say healthy children should be required to receive vaccinations to attend school, according to the Pew Research Center. Scholars believe no major religious group advocates against vaccinations on the basis of official doctrine. However, some individuals from various faith traditions believe vaccinating goes against their personal religious beliefs.

Later, there’s more impressive material:

Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, a group that focuses on religious freedom issues, says he has worked with clients who object to vaccines originally made using cells of tissue from aborted fetuses, which some religious institutions have addressed.

The Catholic Church has approved the use of vaccines — such as the rubella vaccine — that may be developed from descendant cells of tissue from aborted fetuses. No fetal tissue has been added since the cell lines were originally created to produce the vaccines. The Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission compares such use to using organs from a person who was murdered, saying that such vaccines are justifiable.

Staver also said some of his clients have had a general objection based on a biblical passage that says the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and do not want vaccines, some of which include small amounts of weak or dead germs to help bodies fight off infections.

Staver is concerned that some people who oppose vaccines on the basis of religion get lumped into the rest of the anti-vaccination movement. The last time Staver’s Liberty Counsel litigated a case, he said, was in 2003-2004 on behalf of a New York seventh-grader. Child Protective Services wanted to take her out of her home, and state officials were going to prohibit her from going to school.

“They were strongly opposed and had reasons consistent with their faith rather than just checking the box,” Staver said of the child’s parents. “That’s different than, ‘I just don’t want to comply.’ ”

I’ll resist the urge to copy and paste more big chunks of the story, although I easily could do that. This story is that good. And it’s that good because of the expertise of the journalist who produced it.

Yes, Bailey used to be one of us. So maybe we’re biased. But I encourage you to read the full story and judge for yourself.

Go ahead and read it. Read it all.

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