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Vaccine debate arrives in Seneca County as court sees first case

The Seneca County Courthouse took center stage in the growing battle against new state legislation that bans religious exemptions that allowed unvaccinated children to attend school.

In state Supreme Court in Seneca County Tuesday, an attorney for Jonas Stoltzfus, an Amish father from Seneca County, argued that childhood vaccines run counter to his family’s religious beliefs.

Representatives from the state Attorney General’s office argued that the removal of the exemption was reasonable, considering the threat to public health from diseases such as measles.

Attorneys James Mermigis and Kevin Barry have asked state Supreme Court Justice Daniel Doyle to issue a preliminary injunction to temporarily halt the law as part of a larger legal effort to challenge the legislation, passed by the state Legislature in June.

The event drew a throng of supporters of the Stoltzfus family from not only the Seneca County Amish community, but also supporters of religious freedom from across central and western New York. A mother who lives in Syracuse but asked not have her name used because she works for a hospital, said she and others were on hand to support the action by Stoltzfus. She said she was forced to take her unvaccinated children out of public schools this year and put them into home-schooling because of the loss of the exemption.

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