Religious liberty survives
Mark Twain said, "No man's life, liberty, or property is safe while the legislature is in session." Fortunately for Wyoming home schoolers, 2002 was a short legislative session that posed little serious threat to family freedoms. This gives home schoolers 11 months to prepare for more significant challenges in the 2003 session.
Wyoming is one of the few states that still have a true part-time citizen legislature. This is intended to keep Wyoming legislators closer to their constituents. Except for a few officers of the House and Senate, members of the legislature do not have full-time offices in the capitol or in their districts. Legislators need to keep their full-time jobs, because they are limited to 60 days in session over the course of two years. They usually meet for about 40 days in odd-numbered years, leaving them only about 20 days in even-numbered years like 2002. These short sessions concentrate so completely on budget issues that legislators cannot even introduce a non-budget bill unless they have the support of two thirds of the members.
With such a short session, the Wyoming House was unable to act on House Bill 5, which would take away Wyoming's existing religious exemption from vaccinations. Under current law, the state cannot ever force a sincere religious believer to submit himself or his child to medical treatment. The state cannot even force a person to go to a hospital unless he is contagious and there is no other place that would be suitable for quarantining him. H.B. 5 would have carved out one huge exception to this rule of liberty: vaccinations, and only vaccinations, could be imposed over sincere religious objections.
While HSLDA takes no position on the medical merits of vaccinations, the legal implications of H.B. 5 are too grave to ignore. Wyoming currently treats the free exercise of religion with the very highest respect, and only allows coercive action (hospital quarantine) if there is no other way to protect the state from a potential epidemic. H.B. 5 would only make a little change to existing law, but that little change would change religious freedom from a God-given right to a legislative privilege.
We urge Wyoming home schoolers to thank their legislators for not taking away religious liberty in the 2002 session and to ask them to protect religious liberty next year, when the legislature has more time. If your representative is a strong supporter of religious freedom, you may want to show your support in return. (Election campaigns make great home school projects for teenaged students.) Together, we can preserve the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity!
- Scott W. Somerville