PHOENIX (AP) — In a case balancing religious rights and child protection, an appellate court ruled that a mother who loses her child to Child Protective Services still can refuse to have the child vaccinated on religious grounds.

A divided Court of Appeals panel ruled that Arizona law doesn't empower the state to override a mother's faith-based stance against immunization of her infant daughter, who had been removed for alleged neglect.

The ruling comes in a Pima County case involving a mother who state officials say failed to provide her daughter proper nutrition.

The majority opinion said religious freedom is among parental rights that remain in place even after a child is taken into state custody. The decision does not specify the mother's religious denomination.

The state didn't challenge the mother's religion-based objection to immunizations as insincere, instead arguing that the mother's request for an exemption was invalid. The state argued the child's best interest is paramount under state law, the daughter already was in protective custody when the mother requested the exemption, and exemptions should not apply in cases involving parents incapable of proper and effective parenting.

The Court of Appeals majority said the state "has an interest of the highest order in the health and welfare of its children" but also needs to weigh that interest against "other societal values."