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THIS WEEK: Fighting COVID vaccine mandates

One Illinois lawsuit aims to protect the rights of health care workers opposing the vaccine mandate

MOLINE, Ill. — Almost 220-million Americans have gotten a COVID-19 vaccination shot.

And every single American has heard public health workers make the same plea that's been repeated by Rock Island County Health Administrator Nina Ludwig:

"If you haven't been vaccinated yet, you should get vaccinated right away."

But not everyone is buying it.

"There are many ways we can take practical steps like washing our hands or social distancing to keep one another safe," said managing attorney Daniel Suhr of the Chicago-based Liberty Justice Center on "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens".

The non-profit, conservative public interest litigation center is representing six Kankakee nurses who oppose the vaccine mandate under the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act due to their their "sincerely held moral convictions".

"Illinois made a choice several decades ago to be a state that respects the rights of conscience, that is still on the books today," said Suhr.

Listen to our entire interview with Liberty Justice Center attorney Daniel Suhr on THE CITIES PODCAST.

First adopted in 1977, the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act protects doctors, pharmacists, and other health providers who are asked to compromise their conscience in the course of practicing their profession.

"I understand that people are dying in the county," Rock Island County Health care worker Sheri Duhm told News 8's Maggie Wedlake.

Duhm and at least two other Department workers are facing termination because they oppose the Rock Island County Board of Health's mandate for a COVID-19 vaccination for its health care workers.

"People have died from it," Duhm admits when asked about the danger of COVID-19.

"But it's not the 'Black plague'. People can survive."

So far the Courts have been backing the mandates.

The Supreme Court refused to block a mandate imposed on health care workers in the state of Maine.

It also declined to stop mandates on New York teachers and University of Indiana students and staff.

But the Illinois Act is unique to the state.

'The law exists to make sure people may pursue a calling, a vocation in health care while at the same time holding onto their religious beliefs," said Suhr.

Gov. JB Pritzker’s deputy chief of staff, Emily Bittner, has said the law is being applied inappropriately by "fringe elements" and the governor looks to amend the law.

"I think it's telling that the Governor is trying to change the law because it really confirms that the law that's written today applies to this situation and grants this protection for these nurses," said Suhr.

As for health care workers like Sheri Duhm, a 16 year veteran of the Rock Island County Health Department, the fight is very real.

"The only thing that's in question is, will I take the vaccine or not? And no, I will not take the vaccine." 

You can watch "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens" Sunday mornings at 10 on WQAD News 8.