CHICAGO (CBS) — In a sharply worded ruling, a federal judge has rejected two churches’ request for a court order allowing them to fully reopen, despite Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order.
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park and Logos Baptist Ministries in Niles had filed a joint lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order allowing them to hold normal services, arguing Pritzker’s order limiting religious gatherings to no more than 10 people violates their rights to religion and free speech.
Elim Romanian held services on Sunday in defiance of the governor’s order. Logos Baptist Ministries was seeking to hold services with reduced seating and designated entry and exit points, and said it would offer hand sanitizer and cleaning facilities.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettlemen rejected their request for an injunction against Pritzker, stating “the Order has nothing to do with suppressing religion and everything to do with reducing infections and saving lives” during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction, and their blatant refusal to follow the mandates of the Order are both ill-founded and selfish. An injunction would risk the lives of plaintiffs’ congregants, as well as the lives of their family members, friends, co-workers and other members of their communities with whom they come in contact,” Gettlemen wrote in a 12-page ruling on Wednesday. “Their interest in communal services cannot and does not outweigh the health and safety of the public.”
When Pritzker extended his stay-at-home order through May 30, he included a provision allowing churches to hold drive-in services, online services, or in-person services for up to 10 people.
Gettleman said the order clearly “is rationally based in light of the need to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois,” and noted churches and other places where people congregate raise the risk of transmitting the disease.
“The record clearly reveals how virulent and dangerous COVID-19 is, and how many people have died and continue to die from it,” Gettleman wrote.
It’s the second time this month a federal judge has sided with Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. On May 4, U.S. District Judge John Lee rejected a temporary restraining order sought by Beloved Church in Lena, about 40 miles west of Rockford.
Beloved Church held services for 60 to 80 people one day after filing its lawsuit against Pritzker. The next day, Lee ruled against their bid for a restraining order.
The churches in both lawsuits have filed a notice of appeal with the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.