The Christian Scientists have been revealed as the only religious organisation exempt from Australia’s sweeping new mandatory vaccination laws.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Sunday that the government plans to suspend state benefits to all parents who choose not to immunise their children, in a widespread tightening of the current system.
The country’s social services minister Scott Morrison later noted that there was a single group eligible for exemption, but told reporters: “I'm not about to advertise it for fear of it having a lot of new followers on a fairly unfair basis”.
Mr Morrison might have checked his own ministry’s website prior to speaking, as the site clearly states the exempt organisation is the Church of Christ, Scientist, better known as the Christian Scientists.
Mary Baker Eddy founded the movement in the late 19th century in the US, arguing in her book Science and Health that sickness is an illusion that can be corrected by prayer alone.
Alongside the King James Bible, Mrs Eddy’s book – which as of 2001 had sold nine million copies – became one of the central texts of the worldwide faith.
According to Guardian Australia, 1,356 Australians self-identified as Christian Scientists in the 2011 census.
But Christian Science Australia spokeswoman Kay Stroud said her organisation was “very neutral on the subject of vaccination”.
Ms Stroud also told Fairfax Media that the church would be able to determine if individuals were joining only for the sake of vaccinations.
"We're not silly," she added.
Following the rise in objections to vaccinations – from just under one per cent to two over the past decade – Mr Abbott’s government hopes to boost immunisation under the system.
Families who elect not to vaccinate their children could lose thousands in welfare and tax benefits, with some estimating the costs as high as AUS$11,000Reuse content