* Hannah Meisel with one heck of a lede…
On the same day the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 141 deaths of Illinoisans diagnosed with Covid-19, a church in northwest Illinois lodged a federal lawsuit against Gov. JB Pritzker, alleging his stay-at-home order violated its pastor’s religious freedom.
In response, Pritzker’s administration inserted language into the governor’s new stay-at-home order that goes into effect Friday, 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.”
The revised order is here.
* Tina Sfondeles…
Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the language was added to “clarify” that places of worship can meet if they follow social distancing and CDC guidelines.
Earlier on Thursday, Pritzker responded to the suit filed on behalf of a church in the northwestern Illinois town of Lena by asking faith leaders to “put the health and safety of their congregants first.” He added, “Everybody has the right to sue.”
Churches were not technically closed by the previous stay-at-home orders, but they were prohibited from holding large gatherings, per CDC guidelines.
“All public and private gatherings of any number of people occurring outside a single household or living unit are prohibited, except for the limited purposes permitted by this Executive Order,” the March 20 order said. An April 1 stay-at-home extension employed the same language.
* Thomas More Society…
In response to a lawsuit filed today by the Thomas More Society, on behalf of The Beloved Church and Pastor Stephen Cassell, Illinois Governor “JB” Pritzker modified his new Executive Order, released early this evening. The governor will now allow residents to leave their homes “to engage in the free exercise of religion,” placing it on the list of “essential activities.” The new executive order encourages churches to reopen for “drive-in services” and allows small in-person gatherings. Until today, Illinois was one of only 10 states that entirely banned religious services.
“Today, people of faith in Illinois stood up and secured a win for their first liberty: the free exercise of religion,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel. “Calling religious freedom ‘non-essential’ was an insult to people of faith, but today we succeeded in returning this fundamental right to the ‘essential’ list. We can now celebrate the fact that the ban on religious services in Illinois has been lifted - every church and pastor in the Land of Lincoln can bring their flock together at least for drive-in services or small gatherings, as appropriate. This is a welcome waypoint on the road to that day when our churches are full again.”
The Pritzker administration had released its most recent Executive Order to the media several days ago. That draft included no religious freedom language, and at his press conference on April 30, 2020, despite repeated questioning about the Thomas More Society lawsuit and religious freedom, the governor made no mention of changing the order. Then, late this afternoon, Pritzker quietly issued his new order, which included previously unseen religious freedom language. […]
The Thomas More Society’s lawsuit will continue, as the new Executive Order provides only a partial victory for The Beloved Church and Cassell. That case is pending before United States District Judge John Z. Lee, of the Northern District of Illinois. The court has ordered expedited briefing on the Thomas More Society’s request for a temporary restraining order to allow Cassell and The Beloved Church to hold services this Sunday.
* WIFR TV…
“Today when we started the day we couldn’t even drive on a church parking lot,” said Breen. “In fact you couldn’t even leave your house to go to a church service. Now you can do that. And, in fact, the executive order now encourages people to have drive-in services; which is a great recommendation, I’m glad that they added it.”