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Catherine Thompson

Catherine Thompson is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. Before joining TPM, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She is a graduate of New York University, where she served as the deputy managing editor of NYU's student newspaper, the Washington Square News. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.

Articles by Catherine

Nearly every state in the Union offers parents an exemption from vaccinating their children based on their religious beliefs — despite research showing that virtually no organized religion declares an opposition to vaccinations.

Religious waivers have been widely exploited by vaccine skeptics throughout the U.S. because applicants aren't actually required to show evidence of faith-based objections to vaccinating their children. Anti-vaccine groups even go as far as to teach parents how to game the religious exemptions.

Vaccine waivers have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks, as a major measles outbreak that began in California's Disneyland park spread to 17 states. California is among 20 states that have laws that go beyond religious exemptions and allow parents to cite a "personal belief" or philosophical objection to vaccines.

There's little difference between those exemptions in practice. In the case of religious waivers, the process for parents to obtain an exemption boils down to little more than stating in writing that it would violate the parent's religious tenets to vaccinate his or her child. State officials must trust that the parent is acting on a sincere or truly held belief.

That leaves plenty of room for parents who do not want to vaccinate their children for a number of personal reasons, be it a belief that a certain vaccine is unsafe or a desire to stay away from vaccine "toxins," to game the system where a personal belief option is not available to them.

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The conservative blogosphere lit up this weekend with the news that potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson had been designated an anti-LGBT "extremist" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

William A. Jacobson of the blog Legal Insurrection appeared to have been the first to notice that Carson was among those listed on what he called the SPLC's "'Extremist' watch lists." He wrote Friday that "the Southern Poverty Law Center ceased long ago to be a neutral source of information."

There were two issues with Jacobson's blog post, however: the SPLC does not maintain "watch lists," and Carson's profile had been live in the organization's "Extremist Files" for months.

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