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  • A Win for Religious Freedom in Illinois

    On Tuesday, the state of Illinois declined to appeal a recent loss in the Illinois Court of Appeals, which ruled in late September that the state cannot force pharmacists and pharmacies to stock and dispense abortion-inducing drugs in violation of their religious beliefs.

    The Illinois Attorney General’s decision marks the end of the state’s senseless, seven-year campaign against the religious objectors and their ability to operate their small businesses in accordance with their beliefs.

    The case, Morr-Fitz v. Quinn, commenced in 2005 when then-Governor Rod Blagojevich (D) issued an “Emergency Rule” mandating that all pharmacies and pharmacists stock and fill prescriptions for drugs, including Plan B (“the morning-after pill”)—which can act as an abortifacient.

    The rule appeared targeted directly at religious objectors. For example, at the time the mandate was issued, the governor argued that pharmacy owners and pharmacists should “find another profession” if their religious and moral convictions would not allow them to comply with the mandate, threatening them with significant penalties ranging from prosecution to steep fines to loss of professional licenses.

    In 2011, after two pharmacists filed suit, a trial court enjoined the rule because it violated several laws, including the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act. At trial, the state produced no evidence that a religious objection to stocking or dispensing the abortion-inducing drugs had prevented even a single person from gaining access to them. The government also admitted that pharmacies were permitted to refuse to sell drugs for a host of “common sense business reasons” but not for religious ones. Taking these factors together, the court concluded that the mandate was targeted at the religious objectors. Despite this resounding loss, the state appealed the trial court’s decision to the Illinois Court of Appeals.

    The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision, noting that Illinois’s Health Care Rights of Conscience Act “prohibits discrimination in licensing” against a person or business that cannot provide health care services because of a religious objection.

    Illinois is not the only state in which government officials have deliberately targeted religious objectors. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which successfully defended the small business owners in Morr-Fitz, is litigating a similar case in Washington State—Stormans v. Selecky.

    In Stormans, the State Board of Pharmacy voted in favor of a regulation allowing pharmacists with religious objections to refrain from dispensing Plan B and refer patients to nearby suppliers. When Governor Christine Gregoire (D) learned of the protection, she publicly threatened to fire the board’s members, lobbied them to change the rule, replaced several members, and participated in a boycott of a family-owned pharmacy protected by the rule. Then the State’s Human Rights Commission suggested that board members could be held personally liable under gender discrimination laws if they supported the regulation.

    The board buckled under this extreme pressure and adopted regulations requiring pharmacies to stock and dispense Plan B with no protection for the consciences of religious objectors. The regulations made it illegal to refer patients to neighboring pharmacies for reasons of conscience, even though patients could be referred elsewhere for a wide variety of business, economic, or convenience reasons.

    As in Illinois, there is no evidence that anyone in Washington has ever been unable to obtain Plan B due to religious objections to dispensing it. A federal judge struck down the regulation, and the case is on appeal in the Ninth Circuit.

    The Illinois and Washington pharmacists’ experiences show not just a lack of regard for religious freedom, but outright intolerance by those exercising the levers of state power against individuals trying to live out their faith in their day-to-day lives. Pharmacists should not be forced to choose between their livelihoods and their religious beliefs. The cases illustrate the danger to religious freedom posed by the growth and reach of the regulatory state at every level.

    Posted in Featured [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to A Win for Religious Freedom in Illinois

    1. Jon says:

      Plan B does not induce abortion. Stop forcing beliefs on everyone else. Plan B is a personal choice. If you do not want to take it, then don't. But just because you don't agree with it, doesn't mean you need to supress it from someone who does chose to do so. What happened to the Right supporting more personal freedoms? Or is this some silly religious morality issue?

      • Norma says:

        Jon . . . . this has to do with the RIGHT of a person who owns their own business to decide WITHOUT federal mandate what they will sell and what they won't!!! Perhaps you don't understand the free enterprise system very well, but here it is: YOU make a persona financial investment in a business that you OWN, you decide how YOU want to run your business, YOU decide how many people you want to hire, YOU decide what wages you want to pay, YOU decide what benefits you want to give your employees, and YOU either succeed or fail on your own!!! If YOU don't sell what someone wants to purchase they are free to choose to shop somewhere else . . . . DUH!!!! Please explain to me why YOUR rights are more important than someone else's . . . . talk about being able to exercise "personal freedoms." Obviously you are of the opinion that YOUR personal freedoms come first . . . how NICE for YOU!!!!

      • Jeanne Stotler says:

        Jon, I am a nurse, a Catholic and refuse to work on a floor that participates in abortions, THIS IS MY RIGHT, just as this phramacists right not to dispense these pills. I find it odd that people like you holler for your rights but don't want others to have theirs.

      • JROCS says:

        Stop forcing YOUR beliefs on religion! No one is being suppressed of Plan B. It's all over the place for little girls to get their hands on it. If a small business owner decides to run his/her business based on the morals and faith of their religion, then they have that right too and if you non-religious people don't like it, go to the pharmacy down the street…quit trying to suppress OUR religion!

    2. Dave says:

      Jon,who is suppressing this drug. If I don't want to sell because it goes against my believes then I don't sell it. The personal freedom is you can go some place else and get your medications. The right of choice. Just as it for the store that refuses to supply something against his or her wishes. Also for the person who does not want to sell this medication it is not silly at all. This is what made America great the freedom of choice.

    3. pete says:

      If the pharmacist does not want to sell alcohol in the beverage section do you want to force them to sell that as well. Seems that the pharmacy owner should decide what products he does and does not sell. What if the store did not want to sell condoms. Someone else down the road will because it is not a big deal to them. This is such a stupid thing in our society that we force business owners to sell things that they do not want to. if you don't want to buy things or object to their being sold, go to a different store. That is truely freedom and we should protect that.

    4. MWG says:

      What a ridciculous argument, Jon.
      You are arguing one person's personal rights over another? Regardless of your personal beliefs, "personal freedoms" work both ways.
      If someone wants Plan B and it is not illegal, then they have the "personal freedom" to go buy it.
      Likewise if a business owner chooses not to provide Plan B – for religious, business, they don't like the color of the box, or any other reason whether you agree with it or not – is their "personal freedom" as well.

    5. Bobbie says:

      In a free country people have a right not to be interfered where federal government has the expected dutiful ethics to stay away from people's faith in religions who's history and continuance is accepted under civil law and charitable to society. Direct attack for no governmental purpose but personal insecurities who gets away with abusing government authority, laying burdens where the government deems "fair."

      If America's "change" could be in government conduct to respect to carry out the meaning of their duty, America(ns) would be better off.

      All this time and trouble by a government who's unknown ethics with unconstitutional overreach is challenging everyone elses known ethics through a controlling governing of another sort that isn't American or free.

    6. Mike says:

      The left cannot and will not tolerate anyone who "walks the talk" because it draws attention to their own shortcomings and immorality that eats away at them.

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