CHICAGO – Romanian churches filed a federal lawsuit against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for what they consider his unconstitutional executive orders discriminating against churches by restricting in-person worship services to no more than 10 people while allowing commercial and non-religious entities to accommodate large crowds.
The state police are instructed to fill out “stop cards and field reports” concerning those found in violation of the governor’s executive orders and may receive misdemeanor citations for “Reckless Conduct and Disorderly Conduct under the Illinois code.”
Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive orders do not allow worship services that include more than 10 people, regardless if participants meet or exceed the appropriate social distancing and hygiene guidelines, while allowing so-called “essential” commercial and non-religious entities such as liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, warehouse clubs, and ‘big box’ stores to accommodate large crowds and masses of persons without scrutiny or the 10-person limit.
This 10-person limit applies to all churches, including large churches that have multiple meeting venues, like these two churches. Elim Church has a campus of approximately 40,000 square feet, with 750 seats in its main auditorium and an additional 550 seats in overflow rooms (1,300 seats total). Logos Church has a campus of approximately 36,000 square feet, with 425 seats in its main auditorium and 100 seats available in an overflow room. These Churches, and many others like them, could easily accommodate many more than 10 persons, while still observing all social distancing and safety precautions in place elsewhere.
Governor Pritzker made it clear that churches will not be able to hold in-person gatherings of more than 10 people until Phase 4 of his Restore Illinois Plan, and that gatherings of more than 50 cannot take place until Phase 5, which he has stated may take more than one year to achieve, and will only be available if there is some vaccine widely available.
The Romanian pastors, and many who attend these churches, are all too familiar with the heavy hand of government against churches and Christians. Pastors living in the former Communist Romania were arrested and jailed for preaching off the approved script of the Communist regime, or for meeting in places forbidden by the government. Many pastors who fled to America endured arrests, and some even beatings and torture. The Communists banned missionary activity and confiscated smuggled Bibles as contraband.
The revolution that led to the overthrow of the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu on December 25, 1989, began in the town of Timisora, Romania, the childhood home of Horatio Mihet, Vice President of Legal Affairs for Liberty Counsel. Growing up with his father being a pastor, Mihet dreamed of one day coming to America – the same dream of many Romanians. The pastors of these churches and many of their Romanian members never thought that in the land of the free they would face the prospect of criminal sanctions and fines for gathering to worship.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Governor Pritzker has clearly discriminated against churches by limiting in-person services to only ten people while allowing other commercial and secular businesses to operate with large gatherings of people. In addition, the governor states it may be more than a year until this limit on churches can be lifted. This is unconstitutional as churches have the First Amendment right to exist, but businesses do not. In the land of the free, these Romanian pastors and church members should never have to fear arrest or sanction for attending worship services in church.”
Mihet said, “The state cannot ban church gatherings while allowing other secular gatherings. Churches are not constitutional orphans begging for crumbs, but rather full heirs to the Constitutional promise of the First Amendment and equal treatment under the law.”