Illinois Democratic governor signs law allowing workers who refuse vaccine to face potential repercussions

On Monday, Illinois' Democratic Governor updated a state law that was in place since the 1970s to permit workers who fail to comply with COVID-19-related mandates regarding vaccines, testing and masks.
"Masks and vaccines as well as testing requirements are life-saving measures that keep communities and our workplaces safe," Gov. Monday's statement was made by J.B. Pritzker. "Keeping workplaces safe and secure is a top priority. I applaud the General Assembly for making sure that the Health Care Right of Conscience Act doesn't get in the way of institutions who put safety and science first."

The Health Care Right of Conscience Act, which was enacted in 1978, originally allowed medical professionals to refuse to accept or participate in services that were not in their personal belief system.


Kwame Raoul, Democratic Attorney General, had asked Pritzker for clarification that the legislation did not restrict workplace measures to stop the spread of deadly and communicable diseases such as COVID-19. The governor signed SB 1169 into law. He stated that the amendment would ensure that employers continue to have the right to require vaccines for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker attended a fundraiser in Chicago, April 12, 2018. Scott Olson/Getty Images

According to Fox 32 Chicago, several workers filed lawsuits citing the law's conscience exemption. They claimed that their employers couldn't force them to get COVID-19 vaccines. The amendment will not be effective until June 1, 2022.

The state constitution was not approved by the Democrats, despite them wanting it to go into effect immediately. Some Republicans claim this allows for additional lawsuits. However, another vote could be taken after January 1, 2022 to allow the amendment's effective date.

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State House Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, and Robyn Gabel, are Democrats. They insist that no one is denied the right to claim exemptions due to sincerely held religious beliefs, or other medical reasons. Federal law protects them. However, experts think that exemptions from the three federal statutes Pritzker cites won't be available.

Gabel and Welch argued that "a few people" had been ignoring COVID-19 requirements and distorting its meaning, putting at risk vulnerable individuals and workers in high-risk areas like schools, veterans' homes, and hospitals.

New York and Maine have filed lawsuits against mandates for workplace vaccinations based upon the U.S. Constitution’s Free Exercise of Religion clause. These suits could be brought to the Supreme Court.