Morr-Fitz v. Blagojevich
Share this Case
Americans who work in the healthcare field often do so out of concern for their fellow citizens. They hope to use their careers to both make a living and make a difference in the lives of those who need their help.
Given the high costs of healthcare, you might think that governments would encourage people to enter the healthcare field, and would treat these professionals with respect and dignity. Unfortunately, healthcare workers are increasingly being told by the government that they have to make a choice—they either have to abandon their religious beliefs or abandon their careers. That is a choice that, under the First Amendment, no American should have to make
Consider the recent policy imposed by the Illinois State government to force pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives, including “morning after” and “week after” pills. For Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog, this requirement was deeply troublesome because their religious beliefs prohibited them from selling these products.
The aim of the rule was clear from the outset. Governor Rod Blagojevich announced that its purpose was to stop religion from “stand[ing] in the way of” dispensing drugs and to force pharmacies to “fill prescriptions without making moral judgments.” Governor Blagojevich announced that pharmacists with religious beliefs about these drugs should “find another profession.” VanderBleek and Kosirog had each spent more than twenty-five years building a pharmacy career—being told to “find another profession” at mid-life because they had the wrong religious beliefs was an unwelcome mandate.
At trial the state was totally unable to support its rule. The state had no evidence of even a single person who had been unable to get the drugs in question. In fact, the evidence showed that there were many neighboring pharmacies willing to sell the products, which were also available over the internet. Worse, the government admitted that pharmacies could avoid this rule for “common sense business” reasons, but not for religious reasons. Refusing to sell the drugs because you want to make more money was allowed; refusing to sell because of religion was not.
The pharmacists have been represented in this fight for nearly seven years by Becket Fund attorney Mark Rienzi. In the end of the day, the Circuit Court ruled the law was invalid for violating two state laws designed to protect religious liberty, as well as unconstitutional for violating the Free Exercise of Religion clause in the First Amendment.
On December 10, 2012, the State of Illinois declined to appeal the favorable ruling, delivering a final victory Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog.
Even for those who disagree with the religious persuasion of the pharmacists, it is crucial to uphold their right to Free Exercise in order to protect minority rights and honor America’s rich tradition of flourishing, diverse opinions.
*The Becket Fund handled the case on appeal along with attorneys from ACLJ and WilmerHale, LLP.