Religious Vaccine Exemptions Leave Pennsylvania Children Vulnerable

Vaccine Exemptions Leave Pennsylvania Children Vulnerable

  • Vaccines help prevent countless deaths by eradicating deadly diseases. The immunizations children receive, especially those for measles, pertussis, and mumps, help prevent them from catching life threatening diseases. A concerted vaccination campaign can lead to the elimination of certain deadly diseases, such as smallpox, if momentum is maintained at home and abroad.
  • Religious and personal belief exemptions are surging. Currently in Pennsylvania, religious and personal belief exemptions from vaccines vastly outnumber medical exemptions. Numbers from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Health show that in kindergarteners, there are nearly 510 medical exemptions compared to 2,552 nonmedical exemptions, 1,133 of which are religious exemptions and 1,149 which are personal belief exemptions.
  • Lower vaccination rates lead to more children and vulnerable populations getting sick with preventable diseases. Children with medical exemptions or who are too young to receive vaccines depend on their vaccinated peers and communities to keep them from catching these potentially fatal illnesses. When children are opted out of vaccines for nonmedical reasons, they put those who can’t receive them at risk for severe illness and possibly death. Pregnant women who catch measles can also be at risk for miscarriages since their immunity is lowered.

Join the Immunize Pennsylvania Coalition!

The State Has an Obligation to Public Health

  • The state has a duty and compelling interest to ensure a healthy population. It is the state’s primary responsibility to enact laws related to ensure public well-being, safety, and order. This includes a commitment to public health through regulating food and medicine, licensing medical professionals, and working to eradicate deadly diseases through education and mandatory vaccination. Maintaining public health standards is necessary to ensure a prosperous society.
  • Mandating vaccinations passes the rational basis test articulated by the Supreme Court. Mandatory vaccination laws do not single out one particular group, instead focusing on making sure that everybody who can be vaccinated is vaccinated to protect those whose immune systems are weak or compromised. A federal judge in New York City recently ruled “that religious objectors are not constitutionally exempt from vaccinations.”
  • The more people who get sick, the higher the burden is on the rest of the populace. When a child becomes sick, it not only disrupts their education but also the education of any unvaccinated classmates who are forced to stay home by the school district. It impacts parents, who need to stay home from work to supervise their children or find somebody who can take care of them. The Centers for Disease Control, looking at the data from 2011 when only 107 were infected with measles, estimated that the outbreak cost taxpayers up to $5.3 million dollars. With the current measles outbreak nearly reaching that number in Pennsylvania, taxpayers can expect to pay at least that much if not more before the outbreak ends.

Religious Exemptions Must Be Removed Too

  • Leaving the religious exemption privilege’s one religious group over another. Very few religious groups object to vaccinations on religious grounds. Leaving religious exemptions intact could lead to parents attempting to gain exemptions by claiming a religious belief. This would leave the state in the uncomfortable position of having to judge which religious beliefs are sincerely held and which are not. The best way to ensure fairness across the board is to eliminate all nonmedical exemptions.
  • Two states currently have no religious or personal belief exemptions for vaccines. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states without any vaccine exemptions for religious or personal beliefs. An attempt to add religious exemptions to Mississippi’s statute failed, highlighting how important protecting the public health is.
  • A child’s health and well being takes precedent over a parent’s beliefs. The U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear that the right to practice one’s faith does not extend to the point where children’s health and safety are jeopardized. The Court ruled in Prince v. Massachusetts that parents’ religious beliefs do not give them a constitutional right to engage in practices that compromise a child’s health or safety.

Contact your state representative right away and let them know that you are against religious vaccine exemptions!

Find your PA legislator!


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Religion in Schools: Why Faculty Should Keep Their Religious Observances Out of The Classroom

By LFS Contributor Brian Gibson

Empty Classroomm

One issue that comes up often, whether in debate or legal actions, is the question of whether public school teachers and administration officials should be permitted to engage in religious activities with their students during school. I’ve had this debate with fair frequency in discussions with religious friends and acquaintances, who often take the position that denying teachers this venue is an imposition on the instructors’ religious freedoms. This is frequently supplemented with the argument that everyone, teachers and administrators included, should be permitted to express their religious views at school as a means of furthering debate. These are both, in my opinion, highly specious arguments.

Firstly, when a teacher attempts to lead their students in any religious activity, this does not constitute an exercise of their own religious freedoms so much as it is an imposition on those of the students. Like it or not, when acting as a teacher in a public school, the teacher does not speak merely for themselves. They represent the authority of the government in the most tangible manifestation most children encounter prior to adulthood. And that authority is constitutionally barred from being used to tell people what religious position they should adopt.
Teachers, on their own time and as private citizens, are entitled to have and promote whatever religious position they like. But when they are “on the clock” as government authorities, they are bound by the strictures the law places on government.

Secondly, the “fair debate” argument holds no water because it simply is not possible to have a fair debate in a school setting when the teachers and administrators are allowed to take a side. You have to realize what teachers and school administrators are: they are trained public speakers, often with years of experience and specialized education specifically aimed at persuading young people to accept what they are saying. The “fair debate,” argument proposes to take such people, cloak them in government authority, and set them loose against children in an environment where they are isolated from their parents and guardians for hours at a time and their future success is perceived to be dependent on the good opinion of their instructors. To grant that teachers and administrators can advocate their religious positions under such conditions can be nothing more than an indoctrination exercise.

One might argue that, so long as everybody is allowed to advocate for their beliefs, it will all even out. That might be true if all views were evenly represented in the population, and no social pressures existed to favor adherents of one view over another. But that doesn’t reflect reality. The fact is that the vast majority of Americans are Christian of some denomination or another, which emphasizes proselytization to a greater degree than many other religious positions. Furthermore, many people live in communities where real social penalties are enacted against those who express minority religious opinions, which would further suppress their ability to advocate openly for their views. The sheer weight of numbers slants the debate. In most schools throughout the US, an “open debate” policy allowing faculty to advocate their religion to students would be a de facto government endorsement of Christianity.

But even if you could ensure the debate would truly be fair and representative, it would be problematic for another reason. And that is that people would be using the authority of their government position to wage ideological campaigns for the religious sensibilities of other people’s children. It pits educators against each other, and against the parents of the children, in ways that are totally inappropriate for the furtherance of public education.

Now, to many who advocate in favor of having teachers carry on such debates, the fact that they can’t possibly be fair is a benefit, because their real goal is to use the school setting to indoctrinate other people’s children into Christianity. To many others, the idea simply seems benign because they are already Christian and don’t mind having that idea reinforced to their children at school. Many have discovered, though, that just because two people share the same generic religious label does not mean they actually believe the same things. Imagine how a religious parent would feel to have their child come home and tell them that their teacher says they’re going to hell because they are the wrong kind of Christian. That sort of thing tends to shed a whole new light on the debate for those parents.

These arguments are equally applicable to atheism. An atheist teacher should no more be using their position in school to tell children their gods don’t exist than a religious one should be using it to tell them they do.

Government neutrality, the separation of church and state, exists for very good reasons. It protects the rights of religious minorities, and it also protects the rights of the majorities. Not least because people may perceive themselves to be in the majority when they actually aren’t, but also because demographic changes all but guarantee that no group remains the majority forever. It is not safe for anyone to assume that the power to enforce a religious viewpoint on a population will always be used to enforce their viewpoint, no matter how much they think they enjoy the majority position at the moment. Battles for religious supremacy can only be harmful, and nowhere is this truer than when the battleground is the halls that are meant to shelter and educate our children.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of the Lancaster Freethought Society or any of its members.

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March 28th, Adopt-A-Highway – Lancaster Freethought Society Adopts a Highway!

If you are very alert while driving around Lancaster, this will not be news. If you’ve been following the application updates at meetings over the past year or so, this is a wonderful announcement.


PA-222 & PA-30

PA-222 & PA-30

We’ve been looking for an ongoing community-based service project. Adopt-a-Highway programs are well known and in nearly every state. Local groups (Scouting troops, Chambers of Commerce, Rotatory club or your friendly neighborhood gathering of reality enthusiasts) pick up little along a section of road or highway interchange and in exchange get that group’s name on a sign by the road.

Our piece of road is the interchange at PA-222 and PA-30. Pennsylvania’s  version of Adopt-a-Highway operates in 2 year terms. So as long as we do our required four clean ups a year, and I do the paperwork with PennDOT. Then the sign will look like that for the next two years. This is where we need YOU!

Having a good turnout of volunteers is vital. More hands to share the work. More people, more fun. Lancaster Freethought Society was founded to build community. This is a great chance to get out, talk with people like you and get a little exercise to burn off the Pub Night calories.

The first pick-up is scheduled for Saturday March 28th, we’ll meet up about 11am near the intersection. All groups that have adopted a highway have a pick-up in March or April to support the Great American Clean up. There are a few logistical details to decide over the coming meeting and two Pub Nights. However, we have our date. So mark the calendar, put a reminder on your cell phone or just plain save the date.

Come be a part of the first Highway clean-up and a big group picture under out sign. Oh! I nearly forgot, the wonderful announcement I mentioned at the top – we finally got approved, the sign is up.

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2015 Pennsylvania Atheist Humanist Conference (PASTHACon) – Harrisburg, PA September 11th – 13th, 2015



Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

September 11th-13th, 2015


The Central Hotel & Conference Center

800 East Park Drive
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, USA 17111

Come join us for the fourth annual PA State Atheist Humanist Conference (PASTHACon)! We’ll be back in Harrisburg this year and are working on making this year the best one yet!

Our speakers for this year include the members of the “Unholy Trinity Tour”, master debater Matt Dillahunty of the popular “Atheist Experience” TV show, vlogger Aron Ra whose YouTube channel has over 100,000 subscribers, and Seth Andrews of the vastly popular “Thinking Atheist” Podcast.  Keep an eye on our great speaker list as we add to it as we get closer to the conference.

Get your tickets for PASTHACon 2015 now!

Standard tickets include full access to the plenary conference (Friday night, Saturday, and Sunday), as well as the entertainment Friday and Saturday.

VIP tickets include a special meal with the stars of the conference as well as a T-shirt, goodie bag, and access to our hospitality suite with snacks, refreshments, and the occasional opportunity to hang out with the speakers in a more personal setting.

Although Lancaster is only a short drive from the hotel, we have also arranged for a special room price of only $99.95/night for those choosing to stay at the hotel during the conference! Just enter our special group code when booking online or on the phone.

Hope to see you there!



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Monthly Meeting Minutes 11/04/2013


13 Freethinker’s attended a meeting of the Lancaster Freethought Society held on Monday, 11/04/2013 from 6 to 8 PM at Isaac’s Restaurant, Manheim Pike, Lancaster, PA.

The meeting began with the current LFS Board Member Secretary welcoming the new and attendees. The subject of this months discussion was concerned with the current pending vote on Pennsylvania House Bill 1728, which had cleared committee by a vote of 14-9. The bill is meant to introduce into our public school buildings the national motto “In God We Trust”. The bill was introduced into the PA Education Committee by Rick Saccone as the primary sponser. Rep. Rick Saccone was also a sponsor of the “Year of the Bible” for 2013 (PA HB 922) so he is clearly suspect of promoting religion.

We discussed the the following issues of this proposed legislation:

  1. The promotion of a religious rather than a historical message.

  2. The waste of valuable educational funds.

  3. The impression of state sponsored religious message.

  4. The divisiveness of the motto.

  5. What you can say to your representative.

  6. The coverage of this issue in the local news.

If you chose to appeal to your local House of Representative’s, now is the time. You may want to use this as a guide:

PA House Bill 1728 is unnecessary and divisive. There is no need to impose burdens on public schools to symbolically affirm our national motto when it is under no threat in the first place. This bill claims: “To increase student understanding of and familiarity with American historical documents, historically important excerpts from or copies of the documents should be prominently displayed in public school buildings.” However, it only mentions the current national motto. A reasonable person would see that this motto is a proclamation of faith. Currently up to 20% the United States population identify themselves as non-religious. Should we not err on the side of caution and not open our public schools to the on going debate concerning the separation of church and state? This could open our schools to other “historical” messages that maybe you would not agree with? Please think about how others would feel that may not especially agree with placing this motto within our public schools.

The meeting ended at about 8 PM with some attendees remaining to discuss relevant issues.

Upcoming Events:

12/02/13 -LFS Monthly Meeting at Isaac’s @ 6 PM

All of the above are advertised at Please RSVP for these events.

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PA House Bill 1728 “In God We Trust”?

House Bill 1728  passed the committee and will be scheduled for a vote.  The purpose of the bill introduced is to place “In God We Trust” in all public school buildings.  The bill is supposedly meant to support an historical message when, in fact, it is a religious message.  The PA House Representative Saccone has again decided to push the religious agenda upon the secular and the sectarian citizens of Pennsylvania by continually breaching the “wall of separation“.  Not all citizens of PA wish to have religious messages displayed in public schools.  An unofficial poll (view results) at cites an 84% disapproval of Mr. Saccone’s idea or should I say personal ideal!

Article 6 states :“To increase student understanding of and familiarity with American historical documents, historically important excerpts from or copies of the documents should be prominently displayed in public school buildings.”

How about if Mr.Saccone places the Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli, that was ratified unanimously in 1797, into all public schools?

Article 11 states:  As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion, — as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen, — and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This is an historic document and would teach the students what the founders REALLY thought!  This is an historically important “excerpt” that would fit into HB 1726.   This would also give an “alternate view” to the fallacy that this nation was founded as a “Christian” nation.  Would Mr. Saccone add this as an amendment?

Two national constitutional church/state watchdog groups have commented on this bill:

  1. The Freedom from Religion Foundation has placed this “action alert” on their web site.
  2. Americans United for the Separation of Church and State has criticized Mr. Saccone’s bill to place this “motto” in public schools.

This bill will be the main topic of our Meeting on 11/04/13 at Isaac’s in the Granite Run Shopping Center at 6:00 PM EST.

We hope to see you there!

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Ask an Atheist on Penn Square 10/19/2013

An “Ask an Atheist” informational event was held at Penn Square in the City of Lancaster. LFS members were on the square from 9 AM until 2 PM. It was a very nice day and we had many conversations with both religious and non-religious passers by. We hold these events to provide a human face to positive atheism and to emphasize the constitutional concept of the separation of church and state, as well as let other non-believers know they are not alone.

We received encouragement from people telling us that our “low key” presence is a refreshing change from the proselytizing street preacher who is active on the Square on Fridays. We were also told several people that we are “brave” to do these public events. The positive feedback we receive is uplifting to us and reinforces our desire to continue doing them.

Some of the religious questioners were attempting to convert us, prove us wrong, pray for us and ask that their deity show us “the light“. We reinforced that we were not here to convert anyone to atheism and that we have thought through our position and arrived at atheism due to our questioning and not finding the answers in any scripture. We did want to point out the extremely important concept of the “wall of separation” between the church and the state. We also tried to dispel the pervasive myth that the United States was founded as a “Christian nation”. This seems to be a prevalent concept within some Christian circles that is not able to be substantiated. We reminded our questioners that we have a secular constitution that benefits everyone when this “wall of separation” is maintained. For Christians that would like to see the wall weakened, they may want to think about this quote that was posted from the Freedom From Religion Foundation facebook page:

“In a Christian Theocracy, you’ll never be Christian enough. There’s always going to be somebody there with another version of Christianity that is more Christian than you and you’re going to lose the freedom to make the choice because you didn’t defend the Separation of Church and State when you had the chance.”
~David Silverman, President of American Atheists

Our informational event was due to end at 1 PM but due to continuing public interest, we stayed until nearly 2 PM.

Upcoming Events:

10/19 – Pub Night at Loxley’s @ 6 PM
11/4 -LFS Monthly Meeting at Isaac’s Granite Run Square location

All of the above are advertised at Please RSVP for these events.

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Meeting Minutes – 10/7/2013

Approximately 18 persons attended a meeting of the Lancaster Freethought Society held on Monday, 10/7/2013 from 6 to 8 PM at Isaac’s Restaurant, Manheim Pike, Lancaster, PA.

The meeting began with the LFS President, Scott Rhoads, welcoming the new attendees and asking them to introduce themselves, followed by current members’ introductions to facilitate the group discussion for this meeting. Attendees shared how they came to their current beliefs.

Scott reviewed the purpose of the LFS and the primary focus of providing a community to freethinkers, secular humanists, non-believers, agnostics and atheists. A review of current LFS events and activities was announced for the upcoming month along with membership benefits and how the society is seeking charity/volunteer opportunities.

The meeting then turned to an animated group discussion on topics concerning how a non-believer would or could handle situations where they might feel uncomfortable. These situations included being asked to lead a prayer at a family dinner to telling your family and friends that you are a non-believer and the ramifications within your social and employment sphere.

Scott then discussed the upcoming “Ask An Atheist” event at Penn Square in the city of Lancaster. This event is held to introduce people to the LFS and to give people a chance to meet an atheist. The event is not done to argue or debate, but to give a face to atheism and provide a opportunity to ask us questions. One of the goals of this event is to let believers see that atheists are non-threatening, easy to talk with and not people to avoid.

The final discussion was about Church and State issues. We had a visitor from Ireland who was curious to ask Americans how a non-believer feels in a nation that has such a vocal Christian community. He shared his experiences with European countries in which non-belief is no longer an issue.

The meeting ended at about 8 PM with some attendees remaining to discuss relevant issues.

Upcoming Events:
10/13 – Coffee & Conversation at the Prince Street Cafe @ 9 AM
10/19 – Ask an Atheist at Penn Square @ 9 AM
10/19 – Pub Night at Loxleys @ 6 PM
11/4 -LFS Monthly Meeting at Isaac’s @ 6 PM

All of the above are advertised at Please RSVP for these events.

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Interfaith Panel “Why Marriage?”

On Sunday at 2pm, LFS President Scott Rhoades, will be taking part in an interfaith panel called “Why Marriage?” at First United Methodist Church, E. Walnut St, Lancaster. It will take place in the 2nd floor worship space volunteers will be at the door to direct people to the proper area.

Scott was asked to take part in this panel due to the fact that he performs secular marriage ceremonies as a Humanist Celebrant and will be the lone atheist on a panel full of ministers.

Please come out and support Scott during this thought provoking discussion about marriage!


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