Lincoln, Neb. (AP) — A Saunders County couple has asked a federal judge to throw out Nebraska’s one-of-a-kind newborn blood screening law before the case goes to trial.
Ray and Louise Spiering filed a lawsuit challenging the law in 2004, arguing that the mandatory blood test would violate a tenet of their religion beliefs as members of the Church of Scientology.
This week, they asked U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf of Lincoln to declare the law unconstitutional before a trial is held.
Lawyers for the state have until July 7 to respond to the request.
The blood screening has been standard practice in Nebraska since 1967. State health officials say the test, which consists of pricking an infant’s heel to draw five drops of blood, is necessary to prevent several metabolic diseases that can cause severe mental retardation or death if left undetected.
Officials say those diseases put a strain on families and on taxpayers who often must pay for long-term care of the disabled.
Scientologists believe, however, that babies are best served with seven days of silence after birth.
“The Spierings believe that subjecting a child to the pain and trauma of a blood draw within seven days of birth could cause the child to later experience extreme physical and mental trauma which would affect the child’s physical and mental health,” one of their lawyers, Gene Summerlin, said in court documents.
All 50 states have newborn screening statutes.
Nebraska, Montana, Michigan and South Dakota are the only states that do not allow an exemption for parents who oppose the test for reasons such as religious beliefs.
But Nebraska is the only state that allows a court to force parents to comply with the law.
In 2004, Kopf granted the Spierings’ request for a temporary order restraining the state from taking their newborn’s blood within 48 hours of birth.
Kopf instructed the couple to have the test as soon as possible after the seventh day.
In asking for the law to be thrown out, the Spierings argue that Nebraska’s law allows other exceptions for the tests to be delayed.
They cite a 1984 ruling by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in a case in which a woman challenged Nebraska’s requirement driver’s licenses contain a photograph of the licensee.
She refused to have her photograph taken based on her religious convictions.
She argued that the state did not require photographs on learner’s permits, temporary driver’s licenses, farm permits or school permits.
The 8th Circuit said that because the state already allows numerous exemptions to the photograph requirement, Nebraska’ argument that denying her an exemption serves a compelling state interest is “without substantial merit.”
In 2003, the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected a challenge to the newborn blood screening law by Josue and Mary Anaya of Omaha.
The Anayas, who are fundamental Christians, argued that compelling the tests violated their religious beliefs. They cited the Bible, saying “the life of the flesh is in the blood” in refusing to have the baby tested. The Anayas said they believed that taking a baby’s blood could shorten its life.
The high court agreed with Douglas County District Judge Patricia Lamberty, who noted that the U.S. Constitution gives parents the authority to make decisions concerning the care, custody and control of their children without unwarranted state intrusion.
However, she said, states can intervene if they have a compelling governmental interest, such as preventing diseases.
She said the law “does not unlawfully burden the Anayas’ right to freely exercise their religion, nor does it unlawfully burden their parental rights.”
The Spierings are also being represented by the ACLU.
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