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Education Reporter

Wyoming Supreme Court: Parents Rule!
CHEYENNE, WY - The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled March 14 in LePage v. Wyoming that the state has no right to require proof of "sincerity" from parents who exempt their children from certain vaccinations on religious grounds, as allowed by state law. The court declared: "Any [state] agency decision that falls outside the confines of the statutory guidelines articulated by the legislature is contrary to law and cannot stand."

In March 1999, the Wyoming Health Department denied a four-page written request from Susan LePage to exempt her daughter from the hepatitis B vaccine based on the family's religious belief that this mandatory immunization condones immoral behavior. The Health Department asked Mrs. LePage to further "define" her beliefs and explain "how she acted upon them in a consistent manner." After a second letter of explanation, the LePages' request was denied, and they were told that their daughter would not be allowed to continue attending school without the vaccination.

Mrs. LePage requested a hearing, and the matter was referred to the Wyoming Office of Administrative Hearings (OAH), which also denied her request. The OAH decided that the LePages' objection was "based on personal, moral or philosophical beliefs rather than on a principle of religion or a truly held religious conviction."

Attorneys for the Rutherford Institute appealed this decision to the Wyoming Supreme Court, asserting the right of Mr. and Mrs. LePage to direct the medical treatment of their children according to their beliefs. The court found the Health Department's requirement of a review and formal hearing on the sincerity of the parents' objection, in addition to their initial letter of explanation, clearly beyond the agency's authority under state law. The court ruled that "construing the statute as the Department of Health does raises questions concerning the extent to which the government should be involved in the religious lives of its citizens."

"We . . . are confident in our presumption that parents act in the best interest of their children's physical, as well as their spiritual, health," the justices stated. In a warning to the legislature to avoid infringing on parents' rights in the future, they declared: "It is the legislature's responsibility to act within the constraints of the Wyoming and United States Constitutions."

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