* Dan Petrella and Jamie Munks at the Tribune…
Facing a barrage of legal challenges from churches, Gov. J.B. Pritzker is expected to remove a provision limiting the number of people who can attend in-person religious services when he signs a new version of his statewide stay-at-home order on Friday.
The move comes as the state moves into phase three of Pritzker’s reopening plan, with a wider range of businesses opening their doors for the first time in more than two months. On Thursday, the Illinois Department of Public Health issued new guidelines for houses of worship, hours before the state responded to the U.S. Supreme Court in a lawsuit by two churches seeking to block Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
Pritzker’s extended stay-at-home order, issued April 30 and set to expire after Friday, added religious services to the list of “essential” activities for which residents are permitted to leave their homes but mandated that they be limited to 10 or fewer people.
In its Supreme Court filing, the state argues that the churches’ request is moot because Pritzker “has announced that after that date religious gatherings will no longer be subject to mandatory restrictions.”
The attorney general’s filing is here. The guidelines are here.
“This is a total and complete victory for people of faith,” said Peter Breen, the vice president of the Thomas More Society, in a statement. “Illinois’ governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois.”
Gov. Pritzker released the new guidelines during a news conference Thursday afternoon.
“We’re not providing restrictions,” he said. “We’re simply providing the best recommendations that we can for keeping people safe, so we hope the pastors will follow that guidance.” […]
The governor’s spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh, warned that attending church is still a high-risk activity. She said the guidelines are new, but churches have always been allowed to do what they want.
But those who filed a lawsuit on the churches’ behalf see the new guidelines as a win for worshippers.
* Pritzker lifts ban on Illinois worship services starting Friday