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Chicago drops charges against churches that held services with over 10 people amid COVID lockdowns

Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church Chicago
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church Chicago, Illinois, May 18, 2020. |

A pair of Illinois churches that were cited for holding worship services last year despite lockdown orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic have had the charges against them dropped.

The city of Chicago accused Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Philadelphia Romanian Church of “disorderly conduct” and “mob action” for holding services in May 2020.

However, in an order released Monday, Chicago’s Department of Administrative Hearings announced that the churches would not be penalized for holding the services.

The Liberty Counsel, a conservative law firm representing Elim Church and Logos Baptist Ministries in litigation over the restrictions, celebrated the order.

“After 52 Sundays, the city of Chicago has finally dropped these outrageous ‘disorderly conduct and mob action’ charges against Romanian pastors for simply having more than 10-people in their church services,” stated Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver on Monday.

“The pastors and the Romanian churches understand communism and they are resolved to continue to fight for religious freedom.”

Last year, as part of the effort to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued orders limiting in-person worship to no more than 10 people.

In May of last year, as the orders took effect, Elim held services with social distancing guidelines, like spacing out attendees and checking the temperatures of worshipers.

The Chicago Department of Public Health sent a letter to Elim Pastor Cristian Ionescu in response, demanding that his church stop holding services that defy state orders.  

“I appeal to you as a leader in your community and remain hopeful that you will work with me for the health, safety, and welfare of all Chicagoans,” wrote Department Commissioner Allison Arwady last year.

“If you continue to operate in defiance of the Executive Order, the city will pursue all available legal remedies. … Any future gatherings conducted contrary to the order will be considered a failure to abate and the city will take steps necessary to abate, including Summary Abatement.”

Elim and other churches filed suit against the gathering restrictions, with litigation continuing even as gathering restrictions for houses of worship in Illinois were progressively eased.

In March, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Elim, which still faced the possibility of temporary closure for holding the services.

According to the Liberty Counsel, litigation between Elim and Gov. Pritzker is still ongoing, with the church planning to file a motion for summary judgment against the state of Illinois.

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