BRADLEY — Several hundred people packed the Bradley Quality Inn & Suites Monday afternoon to hear a local health care professional discuss options for people who don’t want to be vaccinated for COVID-19 despite mandates from their employers.

Wendy Menigoz, a connective tissue specialist and owner of the Naprapathic Healing Center in Bourbonnais, said she expected around 80 people would show up to the meeting.

That turned out to be a serious undershot.

Attendees filled every table and crowded around all sides of the Aspen-Bristol banquet room, the hotel’s largest meeting room which is meant to seat around 300.

Menigoz stressed that the meeting was not to discuss politics or the science of vaccinations or masks; the point was to gather community members who support religious and medical freedoms.

“This is supposed to be inspirational,” she said. “I want to raise everybody out of fear, desperation, worry and being scared. It’s OK if you’re angry. There is justifiable anger.”

Menigoz took to task local employers who have implemented mandatory vaccine policies for employees.

She encouraged people to push back against their employers for denying their religious exemptions to getting vaccinated.

“It is time for businesses in this town and people to come out of the shadows,” she said. “We have been quiet for way too long, and we’re the majority.”

Menigoz also noted that she is not a lawyer or a medical doctor, but she had some advice for people wanting to go against mandates from their employers.

She encouraged people who do not want to be vaccinated to submit religious exemptions with their employers, even if they are not affiliated with a particular church.

“That does not matter. Your religious beliefs are your deep down, moral feelings that you have,” she said. “So when somebody, your employer tries to challenge your religious beliefs, you can, if you want, argue with them, but you do not have to.”

If the exemption gets denied, Menigoz suggests people should get the denial in writing and file claims with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Illinois Civil Rights Commission. If it comes down to losing your job, Menigoz suggests getting fired rather than quitting, then file the claims.

After those steps, a class action lawsuit may be possible against the employer, she said.

“Here’s the thing, if you work in a nursing home and there are only two of you, that’s OK. It could only be the two of you,” she said.

Menigoz said that, just as employers shouldn’t be bullying employees for their personal choices, individuals should not bully one another for their decisions around masks or vaccinations.

“I have patients who have chosen to get vaccinated, that’s fine,” she said. “I have people who still want to wear their masks, and that’s fine.”

Officials take the mic

Neelie Panozzo, Kankakee County Health Department board member, addressed the crowd Monday.

“I will say with regards to masks, that there is no legal enforcement,” she said. “That’s today; it could change tomorrow, but I will tell you that the health department would like you to follow the mask mandate.”

Panozzo also expressed sympathy for people afraid to lose their jobs over not wanting to take the vaccine.

“I work with a lot of nurses that don’t know how they are going to feed their families, and I just want to say to teachers, nurses, whoever is affected by this, stay calm, do not lose hope,” she said. “It’s going to take time, but we will win this battle.”

Jake Collins, Kankakee County Board member and vice chair of the Kankakee County Libertarian Party, also shared his thoughts during the meeting.

He said people should continue organized efforts to rally against mandated vaccines.

“I will fight for your right to believe in whatever god or whatever medicine or whatever way of life you choose,” he said. “I only ask that you do the same for me.”

Reporter

Stephanie Markham joined the Daily Journal in February 2020 as the education reporter. She focuses on school boards as well as happenings and trends in local schools. She earned her B.A. in journalism from Eastern Illinois University.