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Community leaders examine Illinois' Religious Refusal Laws

Religious Refusal Laws and the implications for the Jewish community was the focus of a Feb. 29 joint meeting of the Jewish Women's Foundation and JUF's JCRC and Government Affairs committee.

religious refusal laws

Nancy Kohn, advocacy chair of the Jewish Women's Foundation, introduces a panel of experts on Religious Refusal Laws: (from right) Rabbi Edwin Goldberg of Temple Sholom, Colleen Connell of the ACLU, State Rep. Robyn Gabel and Rabbi Yona Reiss of the Chicago Rabbinic Council. (Photo by Robert F. Kusel)

Religious Refusal Laws and the implications for the Jewish community was the focus of a Feb. 29 joint meeting co-sponsored by the Jewish Women's Foundation, JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council and JUF's Government Affairs Committee.

A panel of distinguished leaders including Colleen Connell, executive director of the ACLU of Illinois; State Rep. Robyn Gabel (18th Dist); Rabbi Edwin Goldberg of Temple Sholom; and Rabbi Yona Reiss of the Chicago Rabbinic Council, briefed a packed room on the varying nature of religious freedom laws, and how they intersect with civil liberties and Jewish law.

Connell and Gabel began the conversation by discussing a proposed amendment to the Healthcare Right of Conscience Act, which is pending in the Illinois General Assembly. The act currently allows healthcare professionals the right to refuse providing medical care to a patient if such care violates their religious or moral beliefs.

The proposed amendment to the bill (S.B. 1564) (SA3) upholds the rights of health care institutions and individual providers to assert their religious or moral objections, but would require that in such instances, medical providers would be required to inform patients of all available treatment options and provide referrals to other practitioners.

The amendment has passed the Illinois Senate, but is awaiting its third reading on the House floor. The Roger Baldwin Foundation of the ACLU, a current grantee of the Jewish Women's Foundation, works tirelessly to improve litigation and develop legal and public health strategies to advance legislative efforts.

Goldberg discussed the paradox that exists within some versions of religious refusal laws, and stated that "religion should never be used to limit the civil rights of others."

Reiss, Av Beth Din of the Chicago Rabbinical Council, spoke about how Jewish law applies to healthcare professionals, and the importance of striking a balance between the individual practitioner's religious beliefs with the rights of patients.

"It is important that we preserve freedom of religion in our society while also upholding the freedom of individuals to access treatment and information on health care options," he said. 

In closing, Reiss said that "it's nice to live in a country that provides us with a Constitution that affords us with an expanded sense of freedom of religion, something which the Jewish community never really had in its previous existence" in the diaspora.


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