Illinois nurses challenge COVID-19 vaccine mandate in lawsuit
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[October 15, 2021]
By Andrew Hensel
(The Center Square) – Six nurses employed
by Riverside Healthcare in Kankakee have filed a lawsuit against the
hospital over their right to refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, citing the
state's Health Care Right of Conscience Act.
The Liberty Justice Center, a national nonprofit law firm, is
representing the nurses. The nurses have religious beliefs they say
conflict with getting the vaccine, Liberty Justice Center attorney
Daniel Suhr said.
Neelie Panozzo, Amy Memenga, and four other nurses, whose names have not
been released, were notified by Riverside Healthcare officials that they
will be terminated by Oct. 31 if they do not get vaccinated against
Suhr said that what Riverside is doing by refusing exemptions for the
nurses is illegal.
"At Liberty Justice Center, our job is to fight against overreach and
protect people's rights," Suhr said. "This is not only overreach, it is
wrong and it is illegal."
Suhr said that Riverside is in violation of the state's Health Care
Right of Conscience Act, which protects physicians and other health care
workers from being asked to compromise their beliefs in the course of
practicing their profession.
"The law says that if you have a sincere moral conviction that stems
from your belief in God, then your employer has to respect that," Suhr
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Suhr said that these nurses are all devoted to their
religious beliefs and the authenticity of those beliefs have never
been questioned by hospital officials.
Panozzo, a nurse practitioner for over 24 years at Riverside, said
her faith is the reason for her decision.
"I have dedicated my life to living out my faith by serving my
patients," Panozzo said in a statement. "I believe I am called to
love and serve my patients especially those who are frail and
vulnerable, I am also following my faith teaching when I say I can
not accept this vaccine."
Suhr said that the employees of Riverside were made aware of the
blanket denial of religious exemptions by a YouTube video recorded
and sent by Riverside Healthcare President Phillip Kambic.
Suhr said they want to bring attention to other businesses that
might be using the same rules.
"While Riverside has been especially egregious and especially public
about, we are concerned that there might be other employers out
there who are not taking seriously their legal obligation to respect
the conscience rights of their employees," he said.