News & Politics

Illinois Governor Relents on Religious Gatherings—But There's a Catch

J. B. Pritzker

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker amended his stay-at-home orders to now include the “exercise of religion” as an essential activity. The governor’s action comes a day after a Rockford-area church filed a federal lawsuit saying that the governor’s order violated the free exercise of religion and that his extension of the stay-at-home order was unconstitutional.

Other social distancing guidelines — among the strictest in the nation — will remain in force. That means that the churches, while able to conduct live services, are limited to allowing 10 people to participate.

NBC5:

Religious organizations and houses of worship are encouraged to use online or drive-in services to protect the health and safety of their congregants,” the order reads.

This puts religious services in the same classification under the order as activities like going to work at an essential business, partaking in outdoor activity or exercise, taking care of loved ones and grocery shopping or obtaining necessary supplies.

The Beloved Church in Lena, Ill., filed the suit after being threatened with forced closure.

“They justifiably fear arrest and prosecution if they do so, without immediately relief from this court,” the lawsuit states, asking for temporary and permanent relief from the stay-at-home order.

The church said it was served a cease and desist notice on March 31 by area police saying if it did not comply with the stay-at-home order “the Illinois Department of Public Health has the authority to order that a place be closed and made off limits to the public.” The suit alleges people of faith are being relegated “to second-class citizenship” under the order.

“The churches and pastors of Illinois are no less ‘essential’ than its liquor stores to the health and well-being of its residents,” the suit states.

Or abortion clinics, or marijuana shops, or any number of businesses that are still open despite being questionably defined as “essential businesses.”

The ban on preventing people from going to church always seemed arbitrary, as does the modified order. People shouldn’t need permission to exercise their faith. Pritzker appears to disagree:

When asked about the church’s suit Thursday, Pritzker acknowledged “these are difficult times for parishioners to not be able to access in person your faith leader,” but said many churches have found ways to reach parishioners while social distancing.

“[I] would just urge the faith leaders who are worried about the length to put the health and safety of their congregants first,” he said.

In truth, the governor’s draconian orders have yet to slow the virus down. Today Illinois saw the highest number of cases yet reported. And the death toll continues to climb, with 105 more deaths bringing the total to 2,457.

Is any of this worth it? Some of us would say yes but most others would probably disagree.

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