Chicago police break up church funeral service for violating coronavirus stay-at-home order

St. Odisho Church in Chicago, Illinois
St. Odisho Church in Chicago, Illinois | Google Street View

Chicago police broke up a funeral service at a church on the city’s northwest side on Sunday because the service violated the stay-at-home order enacted by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker in response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. 

Chicago Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement that officers responded around 9 a.m. Sunday after seeing a large group of people inside St. Odisho Church, an Assyrian Eastern Orthodox church, located on Pulaski Road. 

It was said that about 40 to 60 people were at the church to pay their last respects to the deceased. 

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Guglielmi said officers reported seeing parishioners drinking from the same cup. Afterward, officers “expedited the completion of the funeral service and dispersed patrons.”

According to Guglielmi, no one was arrested and no citations were issued.

“This is sincerely the last thing we want to do, but public health during this climate is vastly important for everyone,” Guglielmi said, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.

Pritzker enacted the stay-at-home order on March 21, forcing churches and other places of worship in the state to shut down temporarily. Although the statewide order is in place until at least April 7, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last Friday that the order could be extended through late April. 

"I think that realistically we’re looking at something’s that’s going to stretch deep into April,” she said during a conference call with reporters.

In Illinois, there are over 5,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center

In Cook County alone, there are over 3,727 cases confirmed and 44 coronavirus-related deaths. 

Across the nation, many churches and places of worship have begun streaming their services and meetings online in an attempt to abide by state and local orders designed to ensure social distancing as the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise. 

However, some churches and pastors continue to hold live worship services despite the recommendations and ban on large gatherings. 

In Florida, pastor Rodney Howard-Browne, leader of Revival International Ministries and The River at Tampa Bay Church, was arrested on Monday for violating an order that prevents large worship gatherings.

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister said that his office received a tip that Howard-Browne refused to stop holding services and even encouraged his members to gather at the church. 

Another pastor who continues to hold worship services is Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, a state where gatherings of more than 50 people are banned. This Sunday, hundreds attended services at the church as he continues to garner media attention for flouting the ban.

Spell said in an interview with Dr. Phil last week that two of his parishioners were suspended from their jobs without pay for attending church services.

Last week, it was reported that dozens of people who attended a revival event on March 15 at an Illinois Pentecostal church have fallen ill with at least 10 of them testing positive for coronavirus. 

A new survey conducted by political scientists Paul Djupe of Denison University, Ryan Burge of Eastern Illinois University and Andrew Lewis of the University of Cincinnati found that about one-fifth of religious adult Americans are still attending worship services during the pandemic. 

While some might see the act of attending religious services during the pandemic as an act of religious freedom, others don’t. 

“At this point, holding public church gatherings in the midst of a public health crisis is not a defense of religious freedom,” Tony Perkins, the chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom and a Christian conservative activist, wrote in a tweet. “It is a defiance of common sense and the care of your congregation. Spread the Good News, not the virus!”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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