Pritzker Amends EO To Allow For Limited Religious Gatherings, Lawsuit to Proceed

By Benjamin Cox on May 1, 2020 at 10:14am

The Pritzker Administration is now being sued by a church in federal court over his stay-at-home executive order. The lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of Illinois by The Beloved Church of Lena, Illinois, and Pastor Stephen Cassell. It says the church plans to hold service May 3 but they “justifiably fear arrest and prosecution if they do so, without immediate relief from this court.”

According to the lawsuit, Pritzker’s order deemed churches and ministries non-essential and ordered them to shutter. Pritzker was asked about the issue on Thursday and called the case an outlier. “First of all, so many of the pastors and faith leaders across the state have been partners with us and working with their parishioners to make sure that they’re staying at home and staying safe, and I’ve been grateful for their partnership in that. These are difficult times for parishioners and for those of us who worship to not be able to access sometimes in person, your faith leader especially as you know anxiety has come over people, and it’s caused people to need that kind of counsel. Most faith leaders have found new ways to connect with their parishioners, and I would encourage people to continue to do that. I would just urge the faith leaders who are concerned about the length of this to just put the health and safety of their congregants first. I think that’s uppermost in everybody’s minds, certainly uppermost in my mind.”

The Thomas More Society said that Cassell’s church have been issued cease and desist orders and threatened with closure and prosecution for continuing to congregate for worship. Pritzker’s April orders did allow for church operations like food pantry services to continue but forbade gatherings.

In the new executive order that went into effect and was issued today, Pritzker issued what his offices say are clarification on religious gatherings specifying that Illinoisans may leave their homes “to engage in the free exercise of religion, provided that such exercise must comply with Social Distancing Requirements and the limit on gatherings of more than 10 people in keeping with CDC guidelines for the protection of public health.”

Despite the new clarification in the order, the lawsuit will continue under expedited briefing before United States District Judge John Z. Lee, of the Northern District of Illinois. Stephenson County Sheriff David Snyders, Village of Lena Chief of Police Steve Schaible and Department of Public Health of Stephenson County Administrator Craig Beintema in their official capacities also are named as defendants in the case.