The New Jersey bill seeking to remove religious exemptions to vaccination failed to get enough votes as the 2019 legislative session came to a close. 

A previous week of record protests against the bill at New Jersey’s state house spilled into Monday as a crowd of thousands swelled outside the building. Sustained chanting, bullhorns and sirens from protesters could be heard inside both Assembly and Senate hearings throughout the day.   

In a bipartisan effort, several members of the New Jersey legislature spoke with the protesters outside to signal solidity in the efforts to defeat the bill. 

Republican Senator Mike Testa addressed the crowd on two separate occasions “This [bill] isn’t about public health. We know that now.”

New Jersey Assemblyman Jamal Holley stated, 

Anytime we have an elected official who puts forth legislation to separate us, we separate them out. You [addressing the protesters] are setting a tone like no other I have seen in the history of my whole entire political career.”  

Senate Democrats secured the pivotal 21st vote four days earlier by agreeing to a compromise with Republican state Sen. Declan O’Scanlon. O’scanlon was one of the holdouts in December when the bill’s vote was shelved in the face of massive protests before the holiday.

The compromise allowed private, not public, schools students the option for a religious exemption. O’Scanlon told “I’m just trying to find options for folks. Look, other deals would have been done to get this bill passed. I concede this was not a perfect option.

It was at that moment that many viewed the bill as a civil rights, segregation issue as well as a religious encroachment. 

Assemblymen Holley took to Twitter writing, “To suggest that we begin to segregate our students is an abomination of what every righteous leader should be standing up against.” 

Senator Testa said,

This is raising the specter of separate but equal once again. I never thought in my wildest dreams that the issue of Brown v. Board of Education would come alive in the state of New Jersey…”

A turning point occurred last week when the New Jersey Senate President and the bill’s author, Stephen Sweeney, was recorded at a public event arguing that vaccines did not contain aborted fetal DNA – an important point for many with varying religious practices and beliefs. In reality, the current recommended vaccine schedule exposes children to more aborted fetal DNA than any other time in history.

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