Susan K. Livio

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Christie’s Vaccine Statements Aside, N.J. Already Allows Parents to Refuse on Religious Grounds

by Susan K. Livio 02-04-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Jayden Mercado gets an influenza vaccine at Boston Children’s Hospital in Boston. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Brian Snyder / RNS

Gov. Chris Christie created a stir during a trade trip to London this week when he defended parents’ right to decide whether their children should get mandated vaccines — remarks that a spokesman quickly clarified by saying the governor “believes vaccines are an important public health protection.”

Back home in New Jersey, where Christie’s health commissioner has been a vocal advocate for vaccinations, parents already have the right to make those decisions if they put in writing that accepting vaccines violates their religious beliefs.  

In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 9,000 New Jersey children used a religious exemption to decline immunizations that under state law children must receive in order to attend school. The largest number of exemptions were sought in Hunterdon, Monmouth, Warren, and Sussex counties, according to state education department data.  

A parent need only submit a signed statement indicating “immunization interferes with the free exercise of the pupil’s religious rights,” according to the health department website.

Parents do not need to produce a letter from a clergy member or cite religious doctrine.

N.J. Gay Conversion Therapy Ban Challenged in Federal Court

by Susan K. Livio 08-27-2013
N.J. Gov. Chris Christie in March, L.E.MORMILE /

N.J. Gov. Chris Christie in March, L.E.MORMILE /

New Jersey’s newly enacted ban on gay-to-straight conversion therapy for minors violates a licensed therapist’s obligation to “respect the rights of clients to make decisions,” according to a federal lawsuit filed by a Christian counselors group and professionals who use the practice.

The law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie on Aug 19, bars any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker, or counselor from using therapies to change sexual orientation of children under age 18. Offenders jeopardize their licensed status under the new law, which does not apply to clergy or anyone who is not licensed by the state.

New Jersey is the second state in the nation to ban therapy that purports to change a child’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. California enacted the first ban, but Liberty Counsel, a national religious-based legal and public policy group, filed an injunction it before it took effect earlier this year. A judge overseeing the case heard arguments in April and has not issued a decision.

Conversion Therapy Ban in N.J. Prompts Suit Vow From Conservatives

by Susan K. Livio 08-20-2013
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Photo courtesy RNS.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. Photo courtesy RNS.

Licensed therapists are banned from using conversion therapy to try to change a child’s sexual orientation from gay to straight under a bill Gov. Chris Christie signed Monday, making New Jersey the second state to prohibit the practice.

But a national Christian legal group that blocked an identical law from taking effect in California earlier this year vowed to sue New Jersey, saying the legislation violates the First Amendment rights of parents and therapists.

The new law prevents any licensed therapist, psychologist, social worker or counselors related to these professions from using sexual orientation change efforts with a children under age 18.