On Thursday hundreds filled the visitors’ gallery protesting as the Democratic-led New York State Legislature passed a hotly contested bill to repeal the religious exemption to vaccination requirements for schoolchildren. According to the Albany Times Union, the bill passed by one vote. Rita Palma of the Children’s Health Defense spoke to WTEN on their behalf.

The mission statement of the Children’s Health Defense is to end the epidemic of children’s chronic health conditions by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and establish safeguards so this never happens again.” Palma said, “These parents here today believe that it’s a parent’s right to choose to or refuse vaccines for their own children based on faith.”

The law takes effect immediately eliminating a parents right to opt their children out of compulsory immunization based on their faith or personal judgement and gives the unvaccinated up to 30 days to show proof of immunization. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed the measure minutes after the final vote.

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Cuomo said, “I understand freedom of religion. We all do. We respect it. I’ve heard the anti-vaxxers’ theory. But, I believe both are overwhelmed by the public health risk.”

Similar exemptions are still allowed in 45 states and debate around the exemption issue is emotional with many parents saying they oppose immunizations on religious grounds or are skeptical of widely accepted vaccine science.

Protester Stephany Maharis said, “The religious will never comply. They threw children with disabilities out of school and religious children out of public education because they don’t want to comply with forced coercive medicine.”

Includes reporting from the Associated Press, WTEN, and the Albany Times Union