Churches Band Together, Illinois Concedes

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by Paul Murano  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 1, 2020   

Lawsuits prompt governor to drop unfair mandates

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CHICAGO (ChurchMilitant.com) - "This is a total and complete victory for people of faith," declared Thomas More Society vice president and senior counsel Peter Breen.

After a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination and the violation of the state and U.S. constitutions, the state of Illinois has backed down from its imbalanced mandates with regard to religious houses of worship. Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker reversed his bans on drive-in services and small group services of up to 10 people.

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Thomas More Society VP and Senior Counsel Peter Breen

Pritzker announced in his daily press briefing on May 28 that he is withdrawing mandates on Illinois churches and replacing them with health department "guidelines" for places of worship.

"Illinois' governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois. By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois," said Breen. The restrictions had "little regard for the rights of people of faith and [was] ignoring the current best science."

The governor had earlier laid out Phase 3 of his plan to reopen Illinois, which was to begin May 29. Pritzker declared that, while loosening assembly limits for many small businesses and restaurants, church restrictions will remain at a 10-person limit without exception, and with no date for its rescinding.

By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois.

Lake County churches officially complained that this continued imposition of an arbitrary 10-person limit by Pritzker is discriminatory and violates the free exercise of religion under the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Illinois Constitution, the constitutional right to free speech and assembly, and the constitutional right to due process and equal protection of law.

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Before the governor's change, of course, Breen proclaimed:

Illinois now has the harshest shutdown order in the country, with little regard for the rights of people of faith and ignoring the current best science. ... On the eve of the Christian holy day of Pentecost, it's time to finish the job and secure a safe reopening of our church buildings, giving churches at least equal treatment to law offices, liquor stores and large retailers.

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State Rep. Darren Bailey, R-Ill.

The Lake County Protestant congregations who filed suit were The Christian Assembly of God in Zion, Illinois; Living Waters Assembly of God in Grayslake, Illinois; New Hope Christian Fellowship in Mundelein, Illinois; Fox Lake Community Church in Fox Lake, Illinois; and Community Church in Zion, Illinois. No Catholic parishes or dioceses were involved in any lawsuits.

Last Friday Judge Michael McHaney, who had issued a limited restraining order, had choice words for the governor and his stay-at-home order:

Since the inception of this insanity, the following regulations, rules or consequences have occurred: I won't get COVID if I get an abortion but I will get COVID if I get a colonoscopy. Selling pot is essential but selling goods and services at a family-owned business is not. Pot wasn't even legal and pot dispensaries didn't even exist in this state until five months ago and, in that five months, they have become essential but a family-owned business in existence for five generations is not.

State Rep. Darren Bailey, a Republican from Illinois' 109th District, filed a lawsuit against Gov. Pritzker in April, asserting that the Democrat governor's stay-at-home order unfairly affected the residents of his home county.

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