Thanks to Patrick Flynn for the title for this piece. Some of our readers may have heard about Patrick before. Polly Tommey caught up with him while the Vaxxed bus was in north Florida last month.
Ever since the Bishop in Patrick Flynn’s diocese declared that vaccines were mandatory in order to attend diocesan schools, Flynn’s been fighting to get his youngest back into school. Never having a problem submitting an exemption for any of his children before, he was not willing to kowtow to the Bishop’s demands. I’d been following the Flynn’s story because several of my own family members in the same diocese found themselves in the same position. As luck, or the Holy Spirit, would have it, I ran into Patrick Flynn while I was in Florida two weekends ago.
Only in Jacksonville for a short stay, I leaned over to my mother-in-law while we were at Mass and asked her, “Where do the Flynns go to church?” She smiled and said, “Here.” I whispered back, “Well, if you see him, point Patrick out to me.” We didn’t see him in the church that morning, but as I crossed the street to the parking lot after Mass, there he was. I asked if we could share his story here, and he said yes.
Cathy: We learn so much from other parents here, so thank you for taking time to share your story. Give us a little bit of a history as to what lead up to the filing of the lawsuit.
Patrick: My wife and I had a son in Kindergarten in a Catholic School in Jacksonville, FL. In 2013 and 2014 respectively, two of our other children graduated from the Eighth Grade of this same school. We were also very active members of this Parish and 100% faithful to the Magisterium.
For each year of our children’s enrollment in the past, the school accepted the State of Florida Department of Health form DH-681 whereas we have claimed our religious exemption from the vaccination policy in compliance with Florida law (all Florida public and private schools are bound to comply with the religious exemption). None of my four youngest children are vaccinated by choice supported and based upon my faith.
Cathy: Then things changed. Things happened abruptly, too, if I remember correctly. Principals were telling families that their children were not going to be invited back for the upcoming school year. I remember telling family to switch schools! But it wasn’t the principal who made the announcement; it was the Bishop.
Patrick: Following the announcement that beginning with academic year 2015-16, the Diocese of St. Augustine would no longer honor the law, and will now reject Florida’s Department of Health Form DH-681, I personally and verbally appealed to the Pastor of my church and the Principal of its school to please reconsider.
Cathy: I was crushed upon hearing that the principals’ hands were tied. Scores of families were not being heard, including extended family members of mine. I knew someone would have to do something drastic about the Bishop’s decision. That someone turned out to be you!
Patrick: The men of the Church have made this disastrous and unfortunate decision based upon the declarations of the National Catholic Bioethics Center (lay people with no ecclesiastical authority) namely that a): Catholics need not worry about the presence of aborted fetal material in some of the required vaccines; b): Since the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) does not describe vaccinations as intrinsically evil, no Catholic may refuse to vaccinate on the basis of religious belief and; c): The “group conscience” of the parishes and Diocese trumps the individual consciences of Catholic parents concerning the health, well-being and nurturing of their children (in direct conflict with the CCC and sovereignty of conscience).
Cathy: Our readers are familiar with the ethical problems associated with vaccine ingredients, including the use of aborted fetal cell lines. One would think that that ingredient alone could allow a faithful Catholic to opt out of vaccine mandates, but I was shocked that families were still be told that they had to adhere to the vaccine schedule to send their child to the Catholic schools. Could you go to your priest for help?
Patrick: The Pastor of our parish agreed with our decision but felt he could not do anything about it because the edict is coming straight from the Bishops.
Cathy: I’m so sorry. What happened next?
Patrick: I then had my attorney issue two letters (one in October, another in December) on my behalf to Diocesan leadership requesting response. No response was issued to either formal letter. I wrote two appeals (one in October, another in January) to the Bishop of the Diocese. Responses from Estevez’ office were just form letter reiterations of the new policy. I attempted to schedule a personal appointment with the Bishop. The appointment was first scheduled then abruptly cancelled by the bishop’s staff.
Cathy: How unfortunate. It sounds like you needed to make some big decisions. Is this when the lawsuit was filed?
Patrick: Yes. I filed a lawsuit against Bishop Felipe Estevez, the Bishop of the Diocese of St. Augustine (Case # 15-3923). I am not looking to get rich off the Diocese. The purpose of the lawsuit is to compel the Bishop to reverse his new policy as it is destructive, immoral and illegal. I am also seeking reimbursement of my legal fees ($40,000.00 to date). Following resolution, it is my will and desire to mend the relationships with the men of the Church, continue our lives as active Parishioners with my son receiving a Catholic education in our school.
Cathy: No child’s education should be withheld like your child’s has. He’s lost two full years of Catholic school already. What’s happened during that time with the case?
Patrick: We had requested a hearing before Judge Cole to seek immediate injunction pending outcome to prevent my son from losing his place in the First Grade for the 2015-2016 school year. The hearing was set combined with a motion to dismiss filed by the bishop. Judge Cole ruled against us and against Florida Law by grossly misapplying the First Amendment religious protections.
My legal team, agreeing that the judge’s ruling dismissing the case was in error, strongly suggested we appeal. I decided to appeal but with new representation. In the hearing, my original attorneys failed to object when Judge Cole inappropriately scrutinized my private religious beliefs. I fired the original attorneys and hired new legal counsel for the appeal process. One of my new attorneys is Alan Phillips, a vaccine rights legal expert.
Cathy: Ah, Alan Phillips! Good for you for finding him. He’s one of the good guys.
Patrick: We are appealing our case. All written briefs, answers and responses have been submitted. The 1st District Court of Appeals heard our oral arguments on October 21, 2016. The Court changed the venue from Tallahassee to Gainesville for the benefit of the University of Florida law students. There were 200 of them in attendance with standing room only in the courtroom. Video of the hearing is available on the court’s website.
Cathy: So, now you wait for the ruling. Tell us what people can do to help.
Patrick: As of May 12, 2017, we are still awaiting the ruling of the three judges of the Appellate Court.
Cathy: I pray that it is in your favor.
Patrick: Thank you so much for helping me to get this word out. Even people who vaccinate are shocked to hear of this unethical, constitutional overreach and then shocked further that it is being launched against Christian families by the leaders of the Catholic Church. The right of Catholic Schools to accept whomever they want to enroll is not absolute. They cannot lawfully discriminate against members of the five protected classes (Race, Color, Religion, National Origin, Age). I am dismayed and frankly shocked that with all the issues our culture is currently facing concerning faith and morals, that the bishops would expend their time and resources to force this overreach, the expulsion of unvaccinated children from their schools and denying them a Christian education. I am appealing for ongoing assistance with legal costs. I have borrowed most of the funds to date to pay for legal fees. I have launched a GoFundMe account.
Cathy: Thank you so much for sharing your story with us. Let us know if there are any developments. We can share the information here and also on our Facebook page.
If after you read the story you feel called to do something to help, we invite you to share the link so that others can be aware of what’s happening in Florida’s diocese. We also invite you to consider contributing to a fund that Patrick’s set up. As you can imagine, this endeavor hasn’t just taken time to fight but has also cost quite a bit, too. One more thing you can do is pray. Pray that justice prevails. It’s been a Goliath-like fight for Patrick Flynn and his family. Let’s give him, as well as other Florida families who’ve been affected, our support.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.
Patrick provided further explanation for some of the topics and issues surrounding the case.
Under the new policy of the Diocese, only pre-K through 8 students will be denied their right to exemption. No such policy exists for the school’s faculty, staff, visitors, clergy, Religious Education students or volunteers. This is selective discrimination and in rejecting our rights to exemption based upon our personal religious practices, this discrimination is against a protected class under the Federal Civil Rights Act in its amended form.
The exemption being claimed as stated in Form DH-681 states that “immunizations are in conflict with my religious tenets or practices.” No further qualification or explanation concerning my (my own, personal) religious tenets or practices is required, nor is any entity entitled to further explanation.
The Diocese’ assertion that Catholic Teaching does not state that vaccinations are intrinsically evil as the basis for their published position is irrelevant to the law and my rights under the law. In fact it really backfires on them and their position considering compulsory vaccination (their new policy) likewise is mentioned nowhere in the Church’s teachings, doctrine or Catechism. Therefore, as a Catholic, I am not bound to comply.
Contrary to popular belief, Catholic schools in Florida are indeed recipients of both State and Federal funds and therefore have accepted to comply with state education regulations.
The exemption to compulsory vaccinations is not something citizens need to apply for in any form. The exemption is already written into the law. The issuance of Form DH-681 is merely a notice of claim to that exemption. It is unacceptable and by all accounts, illegal for any public or private school in Florida to refuse admission on the basis of immunization policy to any minor student whose parent or guardian lawfully claims this exemption.
Cathy Jameson is Contributing Editor to Age of Autism.