Pritzker’s choice: Get COVID-19 shot, or lose your job
Gov. J.B. Pritzker just signed an amendment to the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, limiting the law used to challenge his COVID-19 vaccination and other mandates.
Illinoisans who refuse to get vaccinated or comply with workplace coronavirus mandates could soon be fired for their convictions, thanks to a change in the state’s decades-old health care conscience law.
Gov. J.B Pritzker pushed for and on Nov. 8 signed the amendment to Illinois’ Health Care Right of Conscience Act to limit the law being used to challenge his workplace COVID-19 mandates. The change will allow Pritzker to fight legal challenges and employers to discipline employees for refusing to comply with COVID-19 rules, including mandatory vaccinations and testing.
“Masks, vaccines, and testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep our workplaces and communities safe,” Pritzker said. He said he is grateful the act “is no longer wrongly used against institutions who are putting safety and science first.”
Public employee unions, especially police, have fought back on the vaccination mandates, with Chicago’s police union chief battling the city’s mayor. After Pritzker signed the law, Illinois Fraternal Order of Police President Chris Southwood on Nov. 9 called him a “dictator.”
“Freedom-loving citizens all across the state have been stripped of their basic right to conscientious choice and can now be discriminated against because of their conscientious refusal to have COVID vaccines forced on them,” Southwood told WMAY.
He said lawmakers and Pritzker will face consequences.
“And I think that those people have now certainly in our opinion have lost the right to represent freedom-loving citizens all across this state and we’re going to make sure their constituents know about it as these elections come closer and closer,” Southwood said.
The proposal was approved 31-24 in the Illinois Senate and 64-52-2 in the state House in late October before being sent to the governor’s desk. The thin margin means the law will not go into effect until June 1 unless Pritzker can convince state lawmakers to take a new vote and push up the date to Jan. 1.
The Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act, ratified in 1998, was introduced to protect health care providers against disciplinary action for declining to perform procedures that conflicted with their moral beliefs. Essentially, it was enacted to protect Catholic doctors from being forced to perform abortions.
But the measure has more recently become a prevalent legal argument against the governor’s statewide mask and vaccination mandates. Pritzker said the law allowed Illinoisans to circumvent his now 557-dayold executive orders related to COVID-19.
“We have effective tools to fight this pandemic — namely, vaccines, masks and testing — and all of our communities are safer when we use the public health and workplace safety protocols we know to work,” Pritzker said in a statement Nov. 4.
The new law would further stymie numerous standing lawsuits citing the conscience law as grounds for preserving Illinoisans’ personal choice on vaccinations in opposition to the statewide mandates.
Groups of firefighters, teachers and police officers from across the state have all filed lawsuits arguing against the vaccination requirements as a condition for continued employment.
The new amendment is also expected to face legal challenges under the Civil Rights Act as arose in states which have already attempted to pass similar policies for enforcing employer vaccine mandates.
Two lawsuits invoking the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise of Religion clause are proceeding in New York and Maine.