SIULAW Prof. Jennifer Brobst discusses requiring a vaccine during a public health emergency in an article about religious freedom and vaccine mandates in The Southern Illinoisan

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SIULAW Prof. Jennifer Brobst discusses requiring a vaccine during a public health emergency in an article about religious freedom and vaccine mandates in The Southern Illinoisan

September 24, 2021, Marilyn Halstead | The Southern Illinoisan

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CARBONDALE — The religious freedom group Liberty Counsel is demanding Southern Illinois Healthcare stop discriminating in granting religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine to employees. 

Liberty Counsel sent SIH a letter to “on behalf of seven employees and numerous others” who have been unlawfully denied religious exemption from the COVID vaccine mandate without explanation or ability to appeal, the organization said in a statement. 

On Aug. 18, SIH issued a statement saying it will require COVID-19 vaccinations for all employees and those who work in SIH facilities as a condition of their employment. This mandate includes employees of SIH Memorial Hospital in Carbondale, Harrisburg Medical Center, SIH Herrin Hospital, SIH St. Joseph Memorial Hospital in Murphysboro, and more than 30 outpatient and specialty practice facilities.

On Aug. 26, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an executive order (COVID-19 Executive Order No. 87) that mandated COVID-19 vaccines for healthcare and education professionals, as well as for students and state employees. It was effective immediately.

The deadline for initial doses of the vaccine are due by Friday, Sept. 24. Employees must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 8.

SIH requires employees seeking religious exemption from the shot mandate to submit their requests on the specified form.

According to Liberty Counsel, the form illegally demands that a third-party religious leader verify the sincerity of the employee’s beliefs and the employee’s membership “in good standing” of a religious organization in addition to the employee’s personal statement explaining their religious objection to the vaccine.

“Illinois law dictates that employees at Southern Illinois Healthcare have the fundamental right to determine what medical care to accept and refuse. In fact, Illinois has a Health Care Right of Conscience Act that provides strong protection to all residents against discrimination based on health care choices,” the press release reads.

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects the rights of employees to refuse to obtain, receive or accept health care services whether acting individually or in association with a group based on conscience, which it defines as a "sincerely held set of moral convictions." It further prohibits discrimination against employees for their beliefs.

The health care workers that Liberty Counsel represents all included sincerely held religious beliefs against abortion and the connection of all available COVID injections to aborted fetal cell lines as grounds for their religious exemption requests. Liberty Counsel says all three of the currently available COVID injections have some connection to aborted fetal cell lines.

These employees believe that life is sacred from the moment of conception and abortion is the murder of an innocent human in violation of Scripture. Some also hold sincere religious beliefs against taking any vaccines, taking those derived from aborted fetal cell lines or those sold by companies that profit from the sale of products derived from abortion.

“Southern Illinois Healthcare must honor the religious exemptions of those employees who have already been denied based on this discriminatory treatment. This is a violation of both state and federal law. We will not allow the rights and free choice of these health care heroes to be violated,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said.

Rosslind Rice, communications coordinator for SIH, sent a formal statement on the issue. It reads, “A panel of physicians and other experts, including spiritual care, reviewed each application for medical and religious exemption in its entirety with the utmost respect. While not everyone who applied received an exemption, SIH did grant medical and religious exemptions during this rigorous review process."

Southern Illinois University School of Law Associate Professor Jennifer A. Brobst, JD, LLM, said. the U.S. Supreme Court has a history of supporting mandates and restrictions in public health emergencies.

“According to the U.S. Supreme Court in Jacobsen, state and local government may be authorized to respond to public health emergencies with governmental mandates and other restrictions, even when they would ordinarily infringe on an individual's constitutional liberty right,” Brobst said. The reasoning is that an emergency that significantly risks the health and safety of the community as a whole, such as a lethal contagion, will require the temporary restriction on an individual's medical choice to protect others. It's a question of a balance of interests.”

Florida-based Liberty Counsel, which has become a fervent objector to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, has voice similar concerns about other health care provided, including Dallas-based Methodist Health System.

The organization has said the vaccines all have ties to aborted fetal cells and because of that anyone with sincere religious objections should be granted an exemption.

The group also sued Maine Gov. Janet Mills and several health care providers over that state’s mandatory vaccination law for health care workers. It also fought California Gov. Gavin Newsom over its aggressive social distancing and shelter-at-home measures that included prohibitions on large church gatherings.