A few weeks ago, we shared the story of a 21-year-old man from Ohio who, after being arrested for fentanyl possession, was legally required by the judge overseeing his case to get vaccinated as a condition of his probation.
Now, in a terrifying glimpse of what might be in store for parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids, a judge in Cook County Illinois (which includes Chicago and some of the surrounding area) has taken away the parental rights of a woman due to her refusal to get vaccinated.
In what all parties agree is a very unusual and perhaps unprecedented step, a judge at Chicago's Daley Center has stripped Rebecca Firlit of custody due to her refusal to get vaccinated.
"I miss my son more than anything. It's been very difficult. I haven't seen him since Aug. 10," Firlit told a local Fox affiliate station in an interview.
That’s the day Firlit appeared in court via Zoom, accompanied by her ex-husband, for a child support hearing involving her 11-year-old son. The two have been divorced for seven years and share custody and parenting time. Out of the blue, Cook County Judge James Shapiro asked her whether she had been vaccinated. Firlit told Shapiro she didn't get vaccinated because she has had bad reactions to vaccines in the past.
Shapiro then ordered that Firlit be prevented from spending parenting time with her son until she gets vaccinated. Over the past two weeks, Firlit has been able to talk to her son on the phone and through video calls, but has been unable to see him in person.
"I think that it’s wrong. I think that it’s dividing families. And I think it’s not in my son's best interest to be away from his mother," Firlit said.
Firlit is now appealing the court order, saying the judge has no authority to take away her parenting rights over her vaccination status.
"It had nothing to do with what we were talking about. He was placing his views on me. And taking my son away from me," Firlit said.
Her attorney, Annette Fernholz, claimed the judge has overstepped his authority.
"In this case you have a judge, without any matter before him regarding the parenting time with the child deciding 'Oh, you’re not vaccinated. You don't get to see your child until you are vaccinated.' That kind of exceeds his jurisdiction," Fernholz said.
As she explained, the judge is acting completely on his own: Firlit's former husband didn't bring the issue before the court.
"You have to understand the father did not even bring this issue before the court. So it’s the judge on his own and making this decision that you can’t see your child until you’re vaccinated," Fernholz added.
However, the attorney representing Firlit's ex-husband, Jeffrey Leving, says they were also surprised by the judge's decision, but they support the ruling saying that given the pandemic, the child should be protected from an unvaccinated mother.
"There are children who have died because of COVID. I think every child should be safe. And I agree that the mother should be vaccinated," Leving said.
Since the start of the pandemic, fewer than 400 children in the US have died from COVID. In every case, the child had some kind of co-morbidity that dramatically complicated the situation.
The judge didn't respond to a request for comment. But it's worth noting that judges have broad authority, and this likely won't be the first time an American judge brings vaccination issues up during cases where it's not exactly relevant.