A U.S. District judge upheld Governor J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order for the state yesterday. The Beloved Church of Lena along with the Thomas More Society had filed a complaint Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction in order to resume worship services with its 80 members. The church still held services yesterday despite the defeat in court.
Judge John Z. Lee wrote in his opinion that the order “preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster,” in a 37-page decision. Lee cited two historical cases — Jacobson v. Massachusetts (1905) and Prince v. Massachusetts (1944) — which ruled that “a community has the right to protect itself against an epidemic of disease” and “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community…to communicable disease.” Lee also ruled that the update to the order made much of the lawsuit moot with its filing on Friday that included religious participation an essential activity as long as gatherings were limited to 10 or less.
The ruling comes as a major victory for Pritzker who is hoping to continue strict social distancing guidelines during the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic. The Thursday lawsuit had been the first significant legal challenge to Illinois’ stay-at-home order in federal court. There was no police action on the church service in Stephenson County on Sunday, according to the Chicago Tribune. Pritzker said during his daily COVID-19 press briefing yesterday that the service shouldn’t have been held at all.