Illinois Governor: No Religious Services for More than 50 Until Vaccine or Treatment ‘Widely Available’

Church Service David GoldmanAP
David Goldman/AP

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plan to reopen his state calls for bans of gatherings of more than 50 people, including worship services, until a vaccine or treatment for the coronavirus is “widely available.”

The Democrat governor released his five-phase plan, titled “Restoring Illinois,” Tuesday, which says even at Phase 4, called “Revitalization,” “50 or fewer” would be permitted at any gatherings as long as testing and tracing are widely conducted.

The state is currently in Phase 2, or “Flattening” the curve, as the rate of infection is slowing.

According to the most recent data, Illinois is the fourth most affected state in the nation, with 73,760 total cases of COVID-19 and 3,241 deaths.

As of May 1, nursing home deaths accounted for 44 percent of Illinois fatalities due to the coronavirus.

“We have to figure out how to live with COVID-19 until it can be vanquished – and to do so in a way that best supports our residents’ health and our healthcare systems, and saves the most lives,” Pritzker said, reported NBC5 Chicago:

According to the plan, it is not until Phase 5, or “Illinois Restored,” when “testing, tracing and treatment are widely available throughout the state,” and “either a vaccine is developed to prevent additional spread of COVID-19, a treatment option is readily available that ensures health care capacity is no longer a concern, or there are no new cases over a sustained period,” will gatherings, including religious services, of more than 50 people, be permitted.

On Friday, Romanian churches in Illinois filed a federal lawsuit against Pritzker, claiming his executive orders discriminate against churches by restricting worship services to ten people while other commercial entities, such as liquor and “big box” stores are permitted to accommodate larger groups.

Liberty Counsel is representing Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries in the lawsuit. The nonprofit Christian firm stated in a press release:

Governor Pritzker has made it clear that churches will not be able to hold in-person gatherings of more than 10 people until Phase 4 of his Restore Illinois Plan, and that gatherings of more than 50 cannot take place until Phase 5, which he has stated may take more than one year to achieve, and will only be available if there is some vaccine widely available.

“Governor Pritzker has clearly discriminated against churches by limiting in-person services to only ten people while allowing other commercial and secular businesses to operate with large gatherings of people,” said Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver, adding:

In addition, the governor states it may be more than a year until this limit on churches can be lifted. This is unconstitutional as churches have the First Amendment right to exist, but businesses do not. In the land of the free, these Romanian pastors and church members should never have to fear arrest or sanction for attending worship services in church.

As Catholic News Agency reported, on May 1, the Archdiocese of Chicago announced public Masses with ten or fewer people could resume. Illinois, however, had previously banned not only all religious services, but also “drive-in” services, including drive-in confessions.

Pritzker’s plan says the state’s response to the coronavirus crisis “has been guided by data, science, and public health experts.”

The plan comes as Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Wednesday the coronavirus lockdowns have been effective.

Fauci cautioned against lessening social distancing practices and added state and local governments should look to the White House task force’s guidelines to make decisions for reopening. Fauci and other public health officials have also said a vaccine for the coronavirus infection is at least 12 to 18 months from being developed and tested sufficiently to be made widely available.

Pritzker’s reopening plan echoes these statements.

“The risk of spread remains, and modeling and data point to a rapid surge in new cases if all mitigation measures were to be immediately lifted,” it states, adding the “path forward is not what everyone wants or hopes for, but it will keep Illinoisans as safe as possible from this virus as our economy is reopening.”

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