Fake church set up in Australia to evade vaccination for children

Reuters / Brian Snyder
New “no jab, no play” childcare laws introduced in two Australian states have prompted a controversial anti-vaccination group to create a “church” of its own that rejects vaccination, but is actually merely a business, according to local media reports.

The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Network has set up the “Church of Conscious Living” as a religion that could help skip the vaccination, crucial to enroll in childcare under a New South Wales 2013 law, as well as Victoria’s proposed law set to start in 2016, The Age newspaper reported Wednesday.

According to the new laws, children who are not fully immunized are unable to receive pre-school education – unless their parents declare they have a special medical, personal, philosophical or religious reason to refuse the vaccinations for their children. The same document is needed to get a tax benefit for families with children.

A parents’ conscientious objection must be signed by a doctor after counseling on the pros and cons of vaccination, and sent to the federal government's department of human services. However, as many general medical practitioners refuse to sign the form, people are resorting to the new church, which insists on the “use [of] holistic and nature-based medicines” among “Earth’s sacred laws.”

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But eight years ago, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission registered the Church of Conscious Living as a business, rather than a church or charity. What’s more, it doesn’t deny its purposes and levies an entrance fee, as its newsletter said in 2007: “We have decided to create a 'religion', so, amongst other things, we can claim 'religious exemption', if the need ever arises, for ourselves and our children.”

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Commenting on the anti-vaccination church, a spokeswoman for the Australian Federal Department of Health told The Age newspaper that it would “closely look” at the organization, though outlining that vaccination is not compulsory.

“Setting up a church will not alter the requirement for parents to discuss vaccination with a doctor and obtain a signed objection form,” she said.

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The Australian Vaccination Skeptics Association, formerly known as the Australian Vaccination Network, was renamed after an order by the NSW government, based on an inquiry that found the network was spreading misinformation. Both the network and the Church of Conscious Living both failed to respond to calls for comment, the newspaper said.

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David Hawkes, a leading Australian virologist, called the church a “devious sham.”

“None of the major religions, such as Judaism, Islam, Christianity, none of them have an issue with vaccination,” he said. “If you're 23 years old … and you choose not to have a blood transfusion or chemotherapy for cancer, I strongly believe that's your right but these decisions are being made for children who do not have a say in it.”

Since 2008, eight Australian babies have died of whooping cough, a highly contagious bacterial disease with a high death rate among children, the Herald Sun newspaper reported. In 2013, California was hit by the largest whooping cough outbreak in 60 years – and it was blamed on parents who objected to the vaccination of their children.

The anti-vaccination movement, or vaccine hysteria, has emerged with the vaccination technique itself. It irrationally links vaccines with such disorders as autism, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), or the covert spread of AIDS.