Six Illinois nurses have sued the hospital they claim trampled their religious right to exemption from mandated Covid-19 vaccination.
Riverside Healthcare, in Kankakee, Illinois informed the plaintiff nurses they would be fired for refusing the vaccine and were denied religious exemptions. Nurse Manager Amy Memenga had worked 26 years at Riverside before the hospital terminated her.
Memenga received a termination letter dated September 20, 2021, effective that day citing her refusal to comply with Riverside’s vaccination mandate. She had been serving a two-week administrative leave for not meeting the original September 6, 2021 deadline for vaccination, according to a legal filing in the 21st District Circuit Court.
Her fellow Christian plaintiffs have been notified they face loss of clinical credentials October 15 and risk being fired on October 30 unless they get vaccinated.
They feel blindsided because they believe the 1977 Illinois Heath Care Right of Conscience Act (HCRCA) permits people with sincerely held religious beliefs to be exempt from such mandates.
The half dozen plaintiffs, represented by Liberty Justice Center attorneys Jeffrey Schwab and Daniel Suhr, filed legal action in an Illinois Circuit Court asking that the court prohibit Riverside from enforcing their mandate against their clients, along with damages.
Their lawsuit quotes the HCRCA as stating, “It shall be unlawful for any . . . private institution . . . to discriminate against any person in any manner, including but not limited to, licensing, hiring, promotion, transfer, staff appointment, hospital, managed care entity, or any other privileges, because of such person’s conscientious refusal to receive, obtain, [or] accept . . . any particular form of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.”
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker issued an August 26 executive order requiring health care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, but that order included an option for weekly testing if vaccination would require a health care worker to “violate or forgo a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”
Riverside circulated a memorandum and policy on August 27 to all employees, announcing it was implementing the Governor’s order. The memo said the hospital would offer a process and form for Riverside employees to secure a religious exemption, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers, who added all six of their clients oppose abortion and the use of aborted fetal tissue because of their deeply-held religious faith.
While no Covid-19 vaccine contains aborted fetal cells, all currently available Covid-19 vaccines were developed with the use of aborted fetal tissue, so receiving Covid-19 vaccines would violate what their lawyers described as sincerely held religious beliefs.
The hospital employees put in their respective requests for religious exemption to Riverside, which then sent a different memo to employees saying they were temporarily suspending decisions on pending religious and medical exemption requests.
“[A]fter pledging to suspend all decisions on pending religious exemption requests until the OSHA Rule was published (which has not happened as of the date of this filing), on September 17, 2021, Riverside denied all religious exemption requests for all patient-facing employees, including those of Plaintiffs,” their lawyers told the court in their filing.
The hospital employees then put in new forms requesting exemptions from vaccination, which their lawyers said the hospital denied, along with their subsequent appeals.
Riverside Hospital employs more than 2,000 people, of whom more than 200 are physicians, and has over $330 million in assets, according to the hospital’s website.
Kankakee is a city of just over 25,000 people located 60 miles south of Chicago.
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