The current legislative ping-pong match over tightening up Maine’s school immunization requirements brings back memories of The Human Fund.

That was the name of an organization concocted by George Costanza in a classic episode of “Seinfeld.” Rather than give out presents to his co-workers one holiday season, George simply handed out cards informing recipients that “a donation has been made in your name to The Human Fund.”

Problem was, it didn’t exist. And when George’s boss finally confronted him on that inconvenient truth, George replied haplessly, “Well, it could.”

Which brings us back to those immunizations.

As things now stand, the Maine House has decisively passed a bill eliminating both the philosophical and religious exemptions that currently allow parents to opt their children out of mandatory childhood vaccinations.

The Senate, meanwhile, has gone along with removing the philosophical exemption, but has narrowly voted to leave in the religious escape hatch for parents who claim “a sincere religious belief that is contrary to the immunization requirement.”


Question: What constitutes a “sincere religious belief?”

Or, to be more blunt, what’s to stop anti-vaccination parents from taking what was previously a philosophical objection and, now that lawmakers have removed that option, putting their own kids and countless other Mainers at risk simply by claiming that God told them to do it?

Tricky thing, religion.

Look it up in most dictionaries and you’ll see two distinctly different definitions.

According to the Oxford Living Dictionaries, it’s “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.”

Yet, Oxford goes on to also define religion as “a particular system of faith or worship.”


In other words, religion can be a community of like-minded faithful – Catholics, Jews, Methodists, Hindus, Muslims, Baptists, Mormons … take your pick.

Or it can be just me. I decide who or what God is (or isn’t). I decide what God wants me to do (or not do.) And when I’m faced with a law I don’t like, I simply tell the world my “religion” prohibits me from following it.

Is that religion real? Doesn’t matter. As long as I claim I’m following instructions from on high, I’m off the hook.

As Press Herald reporter Joe Lawlor reported on Saturday, organized religions across the board encourage their congregations to be immunized against contagious diseases – measles, whooping cough, chicken pox, to name a few – whenever possible.

Why? Because it makes sense, that’s why. Because non-immunized children not only run the real risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening illness themselves; they also threaten people with weakened immune systems, babies too young to be vaccinated, anyone whose life might depend on the hard-won “herd immunity” now under siege by a movement rooted not in science, but in irrational, self-absorbed fear.

Think I’m exaggerating? Try walking through the waiting room of a cancer treatment center, which I do regularly, and look at the masked faces of patients scared to death of catching something every time they venture outside.


Or take in the joy of a hospital nursery and ask yourself which infant deserves a life-threatening illness not because of fate, but because someone out there decided that “God” told them it’s OK to not immunize their own kids.

What bothers me about the anti-vaccination crowd isn’t just their claim that “real” science is on their side. It isn’t. Not a single credible study has supported their claims that vaccines are inherently bad and we’re all better off without them.

No, what’s truly offensive is the fervor with which the anti-vaxxers claim that they know better than the doctors and scientists, that the rest of us are being duped, that their view of the world trumps all others – and if that means their own child or some innocent passerby gets sick, then so be it.

And now we’re going to invite them all to wrap their hubris in the mantle of religion? Please.

“That would be like saying ‘God doesn’t want me to obey traffic signals, and that is my sincere religious belief,’ ” Rev. Jim Gertmenian, a retired pastor from Cumberland, told Lawlor last week. “At some point, the state needs to step in for the betterment of the community.”

After the Senate voted 18-17 last week to retain the religious exemption, the bill went back to the House. There, the majority stood fast and, to their credit, insisted that the only legitimate exemption here should be for medical reasons as stated in writing by a physician.


Now the measure is back before the Senate, which would do well to ask itself, “Exactly what do we mean by ‘sincere religious belief?’ ”

Do we mean that some people’s God, for reasons that make no sense whatsoever, wants them to deny their children a time-tested reprieve from a host of diseases that not too long ago caused – and, in some places, still cause – untold misery for millions of humans?

Do we mean “love thy neighbor,” a theme that pervades virtually all organized religions, no longer applies to those who start each day with a healthy dose of willful ignorance?

Or, as we rightfully close the door on “philosophical” exemptions, do we mean keeping the door marked “religion” propped open and, with a wink and a nod, inviting anyone and everyone to walk on through?

That’s not legislating. That’s enabling. And with 5.6 percent of Maine’s children entering kindergarten last fall without their shots, it’s past time lawmakers started pushing back on anti-vaccination fever.

Back in the “Seinfeld” days, The Human Fund was eventually exposed for what it really was – a ruse that looked and sounded well-meaning, but a ruse nonetheless.

The same should go for The Church of Me.

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