Today, two Romanian churches filed an emergency injunction to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals pending the appeal of their federal lawsuit against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for 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.
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.
The court order does not address many of the arguments raised by the lawsuit, including the Illinois Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Liberty Counsel immediately filed an appeal of the case to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The past two Saturdays, Liberty Counsel received 3-0 opinions from the federal Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit regarding the Maryville Baptist Church in Kentucky. These federal court decisions found that the Kentucky restrictions on parking lot and in-person church services violate the First Amendment.
In the District Court order denying the emergency restraining order, Judge Robert Gettleman called the churches “selfish” for wanting to meet. The order not only failed to address many legal arguments, but to refer to the Romanian pastors and people as “selfish” is insulting. These pastors and the Romanian people are very familiar with the heavy hand of government against the church in their former Communist Romania. The right enshrined in the First Amendment for the free exercise of religion is not a right that can be trashed with such an insult. These pastors and churchgoers value freedom, while this order and the restrictions on churches do not.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Our Romanian pastors know well the value of freedom. Never did they imagine that in the Land of the Free they would be prohibited from holding church services. This happened all too frequently in Communist Romania. The order from the court has not preserved the freedom enshrined in the First Amendment. We look forward to the next step to preserve freedom of religion.”