Judge rejects churches’ challenge to Ill. worship restrictions, calls exemption request ‘selfish’

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on February 20, 2019, in Springfield, Illinois.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his first budget address to a joint session of the Illinois House and Senate at the Illinois State Capitol on February 20, 2019, in Springfield, Illinois. | E. Jason Wambsgans/Pool/Getty Images

A judge has ruled in favor of an Illinois order that prohibits in-person religious gatherings of more than 10 people, rejecting the request of two churches for an exemption.

Earlier this month, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church of Chicago and Logos Baptist Ministries of Niles filed a lawsuit requesting a temporary restraining order against the enforcement of the state order.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman issued an opinion Wednesday rejecting the request, arguing that the churches’ “request for an injunction” and “blatant refusal to follow the mandates of the Order are both ill-founded and selfish.”

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“An injunction would risk the lives of plaintiffs’ congregants, as well as the lives of their family members, friends, co-workers and other members of their communities with whom they come in contact,” wrote Gettleman.

“Their interest in communal services cannot and does not outweigh the health and safety of the public.”

Gettleman also rejected the argument that in-person worship services pose no greater risk when it comes to spreading the coronavirus than secular venues such as grocery stores.

“Gatherings at places of worship pose higher risks of infection than gatherings at businesses,” he asserted. “The congregants do not just stop by Elim Church. They congregate to sing, pray, and worship together. That takes more time than shopping for liquor or groceries.”

“All public and private schools serving pre-kindergarten through twelfth grade students have been closed under other Executive Orders. And under this Order, theaters and concert halls, which clearly resemble the layout of plaintiffs’ churches, are completely banned from hosting any gatherings.”

Pastor Cristian Ionescu of Elim Romanian said he intends to continue to fight the order, posting a statement online Thursday in which he said his church plans to continue holding services.

“We will have services this coming Sunday at 9 a.m. and 6 p.m., and I invite you to come and see how we take temperatures, how we maintain 6 foot bubble and all other precautions,” Ionescu said.

“You say that your drastic measures are meant to save lives! We don’t want anybody to die either! But if you wait until every place is to be 100% safe, there’s no such place; your recovery scheme will last forever!”

Earlier this month, a judge ruled against The Beloved Church of Lena, another Illinois church that has held in-person worship despite state restrictions that was suing the state over the restrictions.

U.S. District Court Judge John Lee argued in his decision that “the foundational rights secured by the First Amendment are not without limits” and that an April 30 order by Gov. Jay Pritzker did allow for in-person worship under certain circumstances.

“The Court is mindful that the religious activities permitted by the April 30 Order are imperfect substitutes for an in-person service where all eighty members of Beloved Church can stand together, side-by-side, to sing, pray, and engage in communal fellowship,” wrote Lee.

“Still, given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the Order preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster.”

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