Liberals have long said the state prayer of Texas should be, “Thank God for Mississippi.”
The reason: In many categories of liberals’ concern, Mississippi is what stood in the way of Texas ranking last.
But when it comes to the currently hot issue of childhood vaccinations, Mississippi is at the head of the class.
Believe it or not, Mississippi leads the nation in the percentage of its kindergarten children who have been vaccinated, at 99.7 percent.
A major factor: Despite being in the belly of the Bible Belt, Mississippi is one of only two states that don’t allow parents to claim religious or conscientious reasons for exempting their children.
The only way Mississippians can enroll their children in public or private schools without vaccinations is to get a certificate from a duly licensed physician.
The certificate must claim medical reasons for the exemption, not religious or conscientious reasons.
The optimists among you might say, if Mississippi ranks number one, Texas can’t be far behind.
And you would be right.
We rank fifth.
But like Gov. Greg Abbott, I am concerned that Texas is becoming more like California.
Gov. Abbott is worried that Texas cities are doing such California things as banning fracking, plastic bags and the clear cutting of trees.
I’m worried that Texas is becoming more like California in the number of parents claiming conscientious reasons for refusing to vaccinate their children.
Many of these parents are convinced that the entire medical and scientific community in America is engaged in a conspiracy to hide a connection between vaccination and autism.
Perhaps I’m a victim of pollyanoia.
That’s a mental condition in which people suffer under the delusion that no one is trying to kill them.
But I simply don’t believe a united medical community is lying to us when they say they can find no connection between vaccination and autism.
California has been catering to those who hold such conspiracy theories since the 1960s.
Texas didn’t until 2007.
Until then, we allowed for religious exemptions, but you had to belong to an established religion, such as Christian Science, which had a track record of opposing vaccination.
What happened before that was that the Legislature passed a bill providing that any parent can avoid all immunizations of his or her child by presenting to the school an affidavit saying they have "reasons of conscience."
California still leads us on conscientious objections to vaccinations.
It is nearly half as populous as Texas but has three times as many such exemptions.
But we may be catching up.
Since being made available in 2007, the number of non-medically based exemptions in Texas has tripled.
Meanwhile, California in 2013 passed a law requiring parents seeking exemptions to talk to a licensed health care provider about the risks.
Last year, the number of conscientious objections dropped by 20 percent.
Some states have achieved even larger drops by requiring parents seeking such exemptions to provide a signed statement by a physician that he or she counseled the parents on the dangers.
Such a notion should not be new to the Texas Legislature.
They require women seeking abortions to allow a doctor to read to them a state-provided script on the dangers of abortion.
Parents seeking immunization exemptions should hear such warnings about risks not only to their own children, but to other parents’ babies as well.
If the Legislature chooses not to require the warnings, it will only reinforce the argument that they care more about babies before they are born than they do afterwards.