A Chicago pastor likened city officials to "Soviet styled KGB" agents after the mayor ordered police to shut down an in-person worship service at his church on Sunday.
Courtney Lewis, the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church of Chicago, sent a letter of complaint to U.S. Attorney John Lausch on Tuesday. In the letter, which was seen by The Christian Post, Lewis described the attempted shutdown of his service.
Lewis said in the letter that police attempted to enter the church during Sunday's service that was attended by about 45 people, all of whom were following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's social distancing guidelines, he said.
"They came with three squad cars, two unmarked Durangos, and a mayor representative's car," wrote Lewis. "Like the Soviet styled KGB, they knocked on our locked doors; the only thing [Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot] hasn't done 'yet' is beat the doors down and arrest our members."
Lewis said the church's doors were locked as a "normal safety precaution we take each service to protect our members from the escalating gun violence in Chicago."
According to the pastor, the police officers' actions came under the direction of Lightfoot, who is enforcing Gov. Pritzker's statewide ban on religious services of more than 10 people as part of his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Lewis said that health concerns over the church's in-person service are unwarranted since they followed social distancing guidelines.
"Our church has gone out of its way to follow CDC guidelines and we have cooperated fully having online services, outdoor services, and practicing all social distancing requirements," Lewis added in the letter.
"We are even taking members' temperatures on the way in our church doors. We are not allowing our elderly to attend services. We are trying to follow the laws of man as much as reasonably possible, but when the laws of man conflict with the laws of God, I, as a pastor, have a duty to follow the laws of God."
While churches are being threatened for holding in-person worship services, Lightfoot recently defended her decision not to abide by the state's lockdown orders after it was revealed that she went to a salon for a haircut while other businesses were forced to remain closed. Lightfoot suggested that she didn't have to abide by lockdown orders because she's "the public face of this city" and is giving interviews on national TV.
Although a majority of churches in the United States have shut down their in-person services to combat the spread of COVID-19, some congregations have refused to close.
Other Chicago area churches, such as Philadelphia Romanian Church of God, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, and Metro Praise International Church have held services despite state orders and threats of fines.
Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady sent letters to those congregations on Saturday threatening to temporarily close the churches through a process of summary abatement if they continue to hold worship services.
Willie Wilson, a former mayoral candidate and influential Chicago-area businessman, released a statement last week saying that he will pay the fines that the three churches incur for ignoring the state order.
"The governor and mayor continue to trample on our constitutional rights while hiding behind a stay-at-home order that treats the church as non-essential," said Wilson, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
"It is shameful that the church is discriminated against, while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and Home Depot [are] treated as essential businesses."
Supporters of restrictions on in-person worship services have argued that the current public health crisis necessitates limits on the number of people who can attend services.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman this month ruled against a request for relief from Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries.
"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.
President Trump recently weighed in on the debate, telling the CDC to issue guidance on reopening houses of worship and to override state orders prohibiting in-person services.
"I'm identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services," stated Trump last week.
"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship — that's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."
On Friday, the CDC released interim guidelines encouraging church staff as well as attendees older than age 2 to wear masks. It also said churchgoers should remain 6 feet apart, whether standing in a line or seated.
The CDC guidelines also advise churches to "temporarily limit" the use of prayer books and hymnals that are touched by multiple people, and to cease using a communal cup for communion.