Milford Christian Academy files suit against CT vaccine requirements

MILFORD — A local church that operates a school and daycare is asking a federal judge to declare the state's vaccine mandates for students unconstitutional.

Milford Christian Academy is suing the state's commissioners of education, public health, and early childhood development, arguing their enforcement of a 2021 state law mandating vaccines for students violates the first and 14th amendments.

Cameron Atkinson, a lawyer representing Milford Christian Church, said that on March 1, the state of Connecticut delivered "an unconscionable ultimatum" to the church to submit a corrective action plan by March 15 after an inspection by the Office of Early Childhood of its "Little Eagles" daycare and preschool. The action would impact about 10 families at Milford Christian Academy, said Pastor Jim Loomer.

"We are challenging the law mandating the law students in daycares, pre-schools, and schools must be vaccinated despite their religious convictions," said Atkinson. "They functionally told Pastor Jim and his colleagues they had a choice: compelling their students to vaccinate, expelling them if they didn't or facing the forcible state closure."

Elizabeth Benton, chief of communications and policy for the Attorney General's Office, disputed Atkinson's characterization of the "ultimatum." In a statement, she said "the state prefers to work with schools and collaboratively to meet requirements and avoid any interruption in the education of students."

"That being said, vaccines save lives," Benton said. "The legislature's actions were fully lawful and necessary to protect public health. We have successfully defended multiple baseless challenges to this statute and will continue to defend the statute."

During a 15-minute telephone status conference in federal court Monday afternoon, U.S. District Judge Victor A. Bolden ordered the two sides "to file, jointly if possible, a ... proposed process for the case's resolution" by next Friday, March 24.

Atkinson said after the meeting that the school will remain open while the court process plays out.

"My understanding is the state is still going to issue letters saying they’re not in compliance," he said. "We’re basically going to fire letters back that we can’t comply because of our religious beliefs. Things are going to remain as they are. If they don’t we’ll be back in front of Judge Bolden again."

Benton said state law requires students to receive certain immunizations before school enrollment. Before 2021, students could apply for medical or religious exemptions to that requirement. Public Act 21-6 eliminated religious exemptions while grandfathering kindergarten through 12th-grade students who had already received such exceptions.

Milford Christian Academy, a kindergarten to 12th grade facility located at 989 New Haven Ave., has been open for 18 years, according to Loomer. The church itself has "approximately 50 members," according to the lawsuit.

"We've been enjoying a religious exemption until 2021 when out of all the COVID frenzy, the state revoked the religious exemption," Loomer said. "The decision was left in the parent's hands, but now the state is trying to usurp that authority from the parent by mandating things regardless of the parent's desire."

Loomer said there are about nine or 10 families impacted.

"There are about that many children also," he said. "It personally impacts us and those enrolled in the daycare center."

Atkinson said they remain confident a federal court will intervene to protect their constitutional rights.

"Our message to the state is clear ... we will obey God first," Atkinson said. "We will not comply. We will continue to adhere to the ministries that God has called us to, and if you shut us down, we will go to the United States Supreme Court to protect the children entrusted to us and our right to religious liberty."

Atkinson said the ultimatum from the state leaves the academy without any opportunity to pursue an education or the educational advantages available to their peers.