Two Illinois churches have filed an emergency request for relief to the U.S. Supreme Court from a state order that limits in-person worship services to no more than 10 people.
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries filed the injunction request on Wednesday, asking for relief from the order by Sunday, which is the holy day of Pentecost.
In their request for relief, the churches said Gov. Jay Pritzker's limitations on worship gatherings in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 are “arbitrary and discriminatory” against houses of worship.
“Governor Pritzker has no plans to remove the 10-person limit on worship anytime soon,” read the request.
“On May 5, 2020, Governor Pritzker released his 5-phase Restore Illinois plan, continuing to subject churches to the 10-person limit through Phases 1, 2, and 3, upping the limit to 50 under Phase 4, and eventually removing limits in Phase 5 — no sooner than 12 to 18 months from now, and all subject to change, at any time.”
The churches stressed that they've been following social distancing guidelines, such as keeping attendees 6 feet apart, checking people's temperatures before entering their buildings, and regularly cleaning and disinfecting their properties.
“Concerns about being fined, arrested, hauled off to jail, or subjected to other punitive measures have interfered with and diminished its collective worship experience, to a much greater extent than COVID-19 and the resulting precautionary measures it has voluntarily employed, ever could,” continued the churches' request.
“This diminishment of churches’ exercise of their sincerely held beliefs will continue as long as Governor Pritzker’s orders disparately single out in-person religious services for more restrictive treatment.”
The request for relief came days after Pastor Cristian Ionescu of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church received a letter from the Chicago Department of Public Health 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.
“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.”
Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver, whose law firm is representing the churches, said the health department's letter was un-American.
“To declare these churches to be a ‘public nuisance’ for holding a service of more than 10 people is reminiscent of Communist Romania, and not America,” Staver said Wednesday.
“Our Romanian pastors are familiar with these heavy-handed government tactics but never imagined they would experience the same in the Land of the Free.”
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and several other congregations in the Chicago area have held in-person worship services that defy state orders limiting the number of attendees to only 10.
Supporters of the restrictions on worship attendance have argued that it's justified for health reasons amid concerns that infections can spread rapidly in larger gatherings, such as worship services.
“… here in Chicago, we have lost three faith leaders to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) and many more congregants who have been linked to churches with clusters outbreaks,” wrote Arwady in the letter to Ionescu.
“In February 2020, the CDC reported that one COVID-19 positive individual experiencing mild respiratory symptoms, unknowingly spread COVID to 16 people, ages 5 to 86 years, after attending a church funeral and a birthday party,” Arwady added.