Lawsuit Forces School To Readmit Student Who Was Expelled For Refusing The Hepatitis B Vaccination

Jan 21, 2004

Camden, NJ – Nancy Mergenthal filed suit on behalf of her son against the Gloucester Township School District after he was expelled by school officials in December of 2003 for refusing to receive the Hepatitis B vaccine. Mrs. Mergenthal is represented by Mathew D. Staver, President and General Counsel of Liberty Counsel, and Joel Oster, Litigation Counsel for Liberty Counsel.

Mrs. Mergenthal is a Christian who worships at the Bethel Christian Center. She has a sincerely held belief that her body is the temple of God that she should not intentionally defile, and she has come to believe that she should not subject her children to immunizations, particularly Hepatitis B. Her oldest son, Gene, at one time had a severe reaction to an immunization and almost died. New Jersey law provides that a child shall be exempted from mandatory immunization if the parent objects in writing, explaining how the administration of the immunization conflicts with a bona fide religious tenet or practice.

After school officials informed Mrs. Mergenthal that her son must be immunized, she submitted a written request for exemption, explaining in detail her religious beliefs and why immunizations conflicted with these beliefs. Mrs. Mergenthal’s pastor and her physician also submitted letters supporting her objection to immunizations. The pastor, Rev. Kurt Kinney, stated in part: “I am writing as her pastor to plead with you to listen with an open heart to her request and grant that which she asks so that Matthew can return to the school he enjoys and see the fairness of this great state.” Despite her request, the state of New Jersey denied the exemption and the school expelled Matthew and then threatened to pursue truancy charges against Mrs. Mergenthal.

After Mrs. Mergenthal filed suit on January 4, 2004, school officials agreed to allow Matthew to return to school, but the case is still pending. Staver said, “Many people have sincerely held religious beliefs that do not permit them to subject their bodies to immunizations in general, or to some immunizations in particular. That’s why virtually every state in the country has an exemption from mandatory immunizations for medical or religious reasons. Although New Jersey has such an exemption provision, state and school officials ran roughshod over Mrs. Mergenthal’s religious beliefs. It’s a sad day when government officials will only respect constitutional liberties after they are subjected to a lawsuit.” Hepatitis B is not a highly contagious condition. It can only be transmitted in one of three ways. These three risk factors include a mother who is chronically infected at the time of birth, blood products primarily through sharing dirty needles, or promiscuous sex. Forcing a Hepatitis B vaccine on children conflicts with most religious beliefs and instruction of parents that their children should avoid promiscuous sex and illegal drug use.