Anti-Vax Family Sues Health Department for Religious Discrimination

Anti-Vax Family Sues Health Department for Religious Discrimination March 16, 2019
WLWT screenshot

An anti-vaccine Kentucky family is suing their county health department over a dispute about the chickenpox vaccine. Bill Kunkel says the health department is discriminating against his unvaccinated son because of the family’s religious beliefs related to the vaccine.

Our Lady of the Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy in Walton, Kentucky is in the middle of a chicken pox outbreak. Earlier this week the school reported a total of 32 cases of chickenpox.

As a result, the health department mandated all unvaccinated children to refrain from attending school. Additionally, unvaccinated students are not allowed to participate in any extra-curricular activities.

Kunkel’s son, Jerome, is a senior at Our Lady of Sacred Heart/Assumption Academy. Jermone plays on the high school basketball team. He is also not vaccinated for the chickenpox.

Because of the health department directive, the school told Jerome he could not play in any sports until 21 days after the onset of rash for the last ill student or staff member. Being that this is his senior year, he was upset with the news.

Jerome told WLWT,

“The fact that I can’t finish my senior year in basketball, like, our last couple of games, it’s pretty devastating. I mean, you go through four years of high school playing basketball you look forward to your senior year.”

In response to the school directive to parents, Bill Kunkel decided to sue the Health Department for discriminating against their religious beliefs. Bill told WLWT that his Christian beliefs prohibited him from vaccinating his children with the chickenpox vaccine.

The father’s rationalization for not immunizing is that the vaccine is derived from aborted fetuses. Due to his faith, Bill says that he does not believe in abortions. Therefore, he does not want to inject his child with a vaccine that contains aborted fetuses.

Bill also said that he had the chickenpox as a child. He said he went to “chickenpox parties” as a kid, and feels that the virus is not a big deal.

An attorney for the family said that the state of Kentucky allows for a vaccine exemption for religious beliefs. The attorney and the family believe the school has violated their religious freedom by withholding Jermone from school and basketball.

The lawsuit seems like a bit of a stretch for a couple of reasons. First, the school is not withholding Jerome from basketball because of his beliefs. Our Lady of Sacred Heart/Assumption is a Catholic School. The school is only withholding Jermone because of his vaccination status.

Second, the department of health isn’t discriminating against their religious reason for not vaccinating. No, the health department is requesting children not to attend school or sports to prevent them from contracting the virus. The health department is attempting to stop the spread of the virus.

Third, the chickenpox vaccine does not contain fetal tissue. Some vaccines are made with fetal fibroblast cells from cell lines that were obtained in the early 1960s from two elective abortions. Vaxopedia explains that the original cells have been copied over and over again.

Because the cells have duplicated so well, no additional fetal tissue has been needed for vaccines. Additionally, the original cells are long gone, and new vaccines are derived from copies of those cells.

For that reason, vaccines today do not contain fetal cells or tissue. Moreover, the tissue is removed before the vaccine reaches the final product. When someone receives the chickenpox vaccine, they are not injecting ‘aborted fetuses’ into their bodies.

Finally, the Vatican and other Christian organizations have issued statements permitting families to vaccinate their children despite the origin of the fibroblast cells from the 1960s. The Vatican says that a parent is not morally contributing to abortion by immunizing their child.

Given the fact that even the Vatican says vaccinations are fine for members, the father has no leg to stand on. Kunkel may think this stems from religious persecution, but the truth is far more benign and unexciting.

The Northern Kentucky Health Department did not make the decision based upon religion. Instead, the department decided to contain and end the current outbreak by not allowing unvaccinated children at school. The public health of the community is of most significant concern to the authorities.

Bill should be grateful they are keeping his son out of school. Chickenpox is not a benign illness. Individuals develop painful and itchy pox all over their bodies.

The CDC reports that severe complications of the chickenpox include: bacterial infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, bleeding problems, and even death. Some cases of chickenpox become so severe that the patient will require hospitalization.

No one is forcing Bill to vaccinate his son. Heck, he can continue to keep all his crotch goblins vaccine free. However, there are consequences for the choice not to vaccinate. In this case, the consequence is that Jerome can’t play basketball. A simple solution for Jermone to finish his season is to get the vaccine.

Hopefully, a judge will throw out the baseless lawsuit. Or maybe Jerome can pull and Ethan Lindenberger and defy his parents by getting vaccinated.

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*Katie Joy is a columnist and hosts Without A Crystal Ball on Patheos Non-Religious Channel. She writes articles on parenting, disability advocacy, debunking pseudoscience, atheism, and crimes against women and children.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Powerglide

    An unvaccinated child is a biohazard. What possible excuse could there be for exposing other kids to this potential bomb of viruses and bacteria?

  • Kimberly Herbert

    The reason people had pox parties is there was no vaccine and it was thought it was safer for kids to get it in Preschool – Elementary aged. I had it in 1st grade and it was hell.

  • FallsAngel

    And honestly, reports of these pox parties are greatly exaggerated. My mom never gave one, I was never invited to one. I still got chickenpox. Ditto for my husband, growing up 1000 miles away. This was in the 1950s. When I was a mom of young kids in the 1980s, I know no one who was giving or attending these parties. Both my kids still got chickenpox. I have seen a few people post that they’ve attended one, but they weren’t common.

  • ScienceMonkey


  • real

  • Elizabeth A. Root

    Having chicken pox is also associated with getting the extremely painful disease of shingles later in life.

  • Antivaxxers? Suing for discrimination?

    I’m laughing and crying at the same time.

  • I caught it from my brother and then developed a secondary infection in my lungs. I wish I’d had the vaccine available.

  • Jim Jones

    Why not introduce this family to a few people with active HIV infections? Some reassuring hugs would be fine, I’m sure.

  • Jim Jones

    People used to get smallpox from open sores and use it on teenagers, since they believed their immune system was strongest.

    If was the better of bad options.

  • TheBookOfDavid

    the consequence is that Jerome can’t play basketball

    Actually, he can play basketball as long as he wants. He just doesn’t get to choose which team he is on. Let him practice his religious beliefs on a private court, for once.

  • Shan

    Whelp, you now have to decide which is more important, basketball or your religious….beliefs? We’ll call it that for now. If your beliefs are that strong, shouldn’t you be happy to give up on “worldly” desires to follow your version of Gawd?

    I mean, you’ve already decided your kid’s health and wellbeing, as well as the health and wellbeing of everyone around you is trumped by your delusions, er, beliefs. Basketball should be an easy-peasy sacrifice after that.

  • ShamrockGecko

    Jerome is plenty old enough to make his own health decisions. Vaccines are available for free for people of limited income, which, Jerome being in high school full time, he is probably not independently financially flush. If his senior year sports participation is that important to him, he can go get his shots.

    But I do worry about the implications of conservatives confirming so many religious liberty absolutists. :/

  • ShamrockGecko

    If their HIV is not yet under control, they should avoid all contact with unvaccinated persons, for their own health.

  • Robert Baden

    There were two strains of smallpox, one of which was weaker. This was what Benjamin Franklin was regretting not having done with his young son who died of smallpox.

  • Jim Jones

    IIRC, cowpox protected you from smallpox.

  • Banrion

    Is there any reason a Dr. would refuse vaccinations to a teenager who asked for them? It’s not uncommon for girls to start on hormonal contraception for a multitude of reasons, and this can be done without parental involvement. I don’t see why vaccines would be different.

  • firebubbles310

    I am so confused. I thought they loved persecution. Thought that was what they wanted, to suffer like Christ did? Not very Christ-like to complain because you aren’t allowed to play a game. Accountability. They don’t get it.

  • MystiqueLady

    Sorry kid, you were born to a dick.

  • Raging Bee

    When I was little, no such parties were needed: there was no vaccine, so everyone just understood that sooner or later some kid would get it and spread it, and all the kids he spread it to would get sick and stay home, then they’d get better (mostly) and that would be it.

  • Andrew Lazarus

    Quarantine is in the Bible. It was probably old then. The only question here is whether the judge will make these clowns pay the school’s attorney’s fees.

  • Marie-José Renaud

    godgodgodvaccineinjuryautismgodgodgodvaccineinjuryautism. In short, they’re insane.

  • Also, ‘a dog ate it’ was not an acceptable excuse for missing homework in grade school. ‘God said so’ is not an acceptable excuse for endangering others now. Plus, he’s supposed to obey the law – I’m pretty sure Caesar is mentioned in the Bible at some point.

  • To be fair, it’s the kid who objects to not playing Basketball. It’s more like the dad needs to learn when to say ‘Sorry, that’s against our beliefs’ than anything else.

  • The relevant things are Gillick competence or being a Gillick minor.

    So one of the following would likely be the case if they were refusing vaccinations to a teenager. The Frazer guidelines apply to contraception, mostly, in theory but they are rules of thumb that might be used in other situations.

    Gillick competence means the professional is satisfied:

    the young person will understand the professional’s advice;
    the young person cannot be persuaded to inform their parents;
    the young person is likely to begin, or to continue having, sexual intercourse with or without contraceptive treatment;
    unless the young person receives contraceptive treatment, their physical or mental health, or both, are likely to suffer;
    the young person’s best interests require them to receive contraceptive advice or treatment with or without parental consent.

  • Correct.

    This is quite literally where we get the word vaccine from. It’s from vaccinus – which means of or relating to cows.