Rockford Church leaders say no one has asked for religious exemption

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ROCKFORD – Most, if not all, religious leaders will pray with or for you upon request. They will write letters of recommendation for young people looking to enter college and for adults looking for work.

But will they grant you a letter of exemption from a COVID-19 vaccination? May be. Maybe not.

It has been just over a month since Governor JB Pritzker ordered that all healthcare workers, K-12 teachers and staff, and higher education staff and students be vaccinated or are exempted for medical or religious reasons and undergo regular testing.

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While a church in northern Illinois has openly shared its commitment to helping vaccine opponents obtain religious exemptions, Church leaders in Rock River Valley say they did not have to. because no one asks for them.

The Catholic Diocese of Rockford serves 11 counties in northern Illinois.

Diocese communications director Penny Wiegert said she was not aware of anyone asking for help in securing a religious exemption.

“People have to decide for themselves,” she said. “We don’t necessarily grant exemptions. It’s a matter of conscience. So they have to decide on a personal level if they feel they have a religious objection.”

Pediatrics and NICU nurse Paula Culvey, right, administers the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to Dr James Cole at SwedishAmerican Hospital on Thursday, December 17, 2020, in Rockford.  Thursday marked the second day of vaccine delivery in the city, with health workers on the front lines for the vaccine.  SwedishAmerican said nearly 2,000 doses went into its first batch of the state's vaccine.

“No one asked”

Zion Baptist Missionary Church’s new pastor, Reverend Ken Copeland, has been a strong advocate for immunizations and allowed his church in the spring to be used as a mass immunization clinic to better serve residents of the west of town.

He said, “No one asked me for a letter (of exemption).

This is in stark contrast to the Northwoods Community Church in Peoria, which posted the following on their website:

“We believe it is prudent for conscientious objectors to a vaccination warrant to be granted their biblical and constitutional right. Northwoods Church does not believe that a faithful follower of Jesus should be punished by a government or an employer for have followed his conscience. All governing bodies and employers should be prepared to provide reasonable accommodation for such persons. If a member or participant of the Church of Northwoods is faced with such a mandate, we support that person’s right to pray, to seek direction from God on what to do, and if so directed by the Lord, to seek religious exemption from any government or employer vaccine mandate. “

The statement went on to say that members and participants can request an affirmation statement from the church to support their cases.

The pastor could not be reached for further comment.

Overturn the law

American Civil Liberties Union attorney Ameri Klafeta said the exemptions stem from the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, a state law intended to provide exemption from liability such as a doctor refusing to perform a abortion because of his religious belief.

“I understand that teachers and others who try to avoid the vaccine or the test warrant are now relying on this law to make themselves an exception,” Klafeta said. “This is the part that we are following very closely. It upsets the law a bit and takes it away from what the law was originally supposed to do.”

Rockford’s top three health care providers declined to say how many of their employees are applying for or have received mandate exemptions from vaccination.

In a statement provided to the Rockford Register Star, OSF HealthCare said it would allow “religious / conscience exemptions for sincere religious beliefs, practices or observances” and that these requests go through an approval process in which employees can submit a declaration and documents. supporting their request.

At UW Health Northern Illinois, the vaccination policy “allows associates to sign a waiver stating that they are exempt due to medical concerns or religious beliefs.”

Staff at Rockford Public Schools have two options: they can write a letter outlining their beliefs and the conflict posed by the vaccination mandate or fill out a human resources form. They don’t need a letter from their church or pastor.

As the number of COVID-19 cases is on the decline, more than 1,020 people died in Illinois in September, the highest monthly total since February, when 1,273 people died.

Chris Green: cgreen@rrstar.com; @chrisfgreen



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