A year after citing two Illinois churches for “disorderly conduct” and “mob action” citations because they held in-person Sunday services with more than 10 people despite COVID-19 restrictions targeting churches last May, the City of Chicago dismissed both charges.
It’s about time
Celebrating the announcement made by Chicago’s Department of Administrative Hearings on Monday that Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Philadelphia Romanian Church would not be penalized for holding services with more than 10 people on May 17, 2020, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver believes the dropping of charges was long overdue.
“After 52 Sundays, the city of Chicago has finally dropped these outrageous ‘disorderly conduct and mob action’ charges against Romanian pastors for simply having more than 10-people in their church services,” Staver proclaimed in a statement released by his Christian law firm Monday.
Staver – whose legal team has represented Elim Church and Logos Baptist Ministries in their fight against the city’s litigation – indicated that such charges resemble authoritarian rule that should not be found in a democratic republic that is supposed to guarantee citizens’ right to worship and assemble.
“The pastors and the Romanian churches understand communism, and they are resolved to continue to fight for religious freedom,” he added.
Crackdown on churches
Despite following the same social distancing guidelines followed by numerous retailers and business services during the pandemic, the two Romanian churches were cited for not abiding by orders issued last spring by Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.) that targeted churches by limiting them to no more than 10 people during in-person services.
Last May, Elim Church Pastor Cristian Ionescu’s church held in-person services while going out of its way to take precautions against the coronavirus – such as spacing out attendees and checking their temperatures – but this was not enough for the Chicago Department of Public Health, which sent him a letter demanding that his church cease holding services that defy state orders.
“I appeal to you as a leader in your community and remain hopeful that you will work with me for the health, safety and welfare of all Chicagoans,” Department Commissioner Allison Arwady wrote Ionescu in a letter last year. “If you continue to operate in defiance of the Executive Order, the city will pursue all available legal remedies. … Any future gatherings conducted contrary to the order will be considered a failure to abate, and the city will take steps necessary to abate – including Summary Abatement.”
In response, Elim and a number of other churches filed a lawsuit against Pritzker for unconstitutionally targeting religious services with gathering restrictions, and the case is still moving forward – despite the lifting of restrictions, the administration of COVID-19 vaccines and the decline in infections and morbidity.
“[L]itigation continu[ed], even as gathering restrictions for houses of worship in Illinois were progressively eased,” The Christian Post (CP) noted. “In March, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from Elim, which still faced the possibility of temporary closure for holding the services.”
Not again …
Foreseeing problems and future restrictions by the governor singling out churches again in the future, Ionescu is pressing forward to make sure religious activities are not discriminatorily and unconstitutionally shut down when another crisis hits.
“Under Gov. Pritzker’s executive orders, churches could have an unlimited number of people for nonreligious activities to feed, shelter and provide social services – which includes unemployment or disability counseling – however, religious gatherings, in the same church with the same people, were limited to 10,” Liberty Counsel noted. “These restrictions were removed in May 2020 – when Liberty Counsel filed a petition for an injunction pending appeal at the Supreme Court – however, during oral argument last year at the Court of Appeals, the Governor argued that he should be able to impose his discriminatory orders, once again.”
Liberty Counsel announced that its next move in the legal battle between Elim and Gov. Pritzker will be to file a motion for summary judgment against the State of Illinois in hopes that churches within the state can no longer be discriminatorily restricted or shut down at the whim of the governor under the pretense of public health or safety.
Copyright American Family News. Reprinted with permission.