Morr-Fitz v. Blagojevich
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Americans who work in the healthcare field often do so out of concern for their fellow citizens – their careers allow them to make a living and make a difference in the lives of those who need their help. Unfortunately, healthcare workers are increasingly being told by the government that they have to make a choice—abandon their religious beliefs or abandon their careers. Under the First Amendment, that is a choice no American should have to make.
Consider the policy Illinois imposed in 2005 to force pharmacists to sell emergency contraceptives, including “morning after” and “week after” pills. For Luke Vander Bleek and Glenn Kosirog, this requirement was 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 pharmacy careers. Being told to “find another profession” at mid-life because they had the wrong religious beliefs was an unwelcome mandate.
At trial, Illinois was totally unable to support its new rule. The state had no evidence of any person who had been unable to get the drugs in question. In fact, 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 were represented in this fight for nearly seven years by Becket attorney Mark Rienzi. Ultimately 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.
In December 2012, Illinois declined to appeal, delivering a final victory for the pharmacists.
Even for those who disagree with the religious persuasion of the pharmacists, it is important to protect minority rights and honor America’s tradition of diverse opinions by upholding their right to Free Exercise.
*Becket handled the case on appeal, along with attorneys from ACLJ and WilmerHale, LLP.