DES PLAINES, Ill. (CBS) — A traveling tent revival has the City of Des Plaines taking action amid the coronavirus pandemic.
As CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole reported, the City of Des Plaines walks gingerly around the freedom to worship while also maintaining public health in a pandemic.
The city of Des Plaines is walking gingerly around the freedom to worship, but also maintaining public health in a pandemic. The tent revival events can go on at the campground, according to the city.
But now, by executive order, organizers can face penalties and fines if more than 50 people gather at the site and they don’t social distance.
And to Des Plaines city leaders, the images of in a pandemic are disturbing – with an estimated 150 people crammed side by side without face masks for the Big Tent Revival.
Additional posts to social media from attendees showed it wasn’t just a momentary rush, as the praise and worship unfolded at the city’s historical Methodist Campground.
The man behind it all is charismatic faith leader Torben Søndergaard from the traveling organization, The Last Reformation. Since last weekend, he has been chronicling the revivals – daily events on his YouTube channel.
Also on his YouTube channel, Søndergaard showed off the permit he claims gave the revival its go-ahead – which he called “something that could not happen if it was not for God.”
But that is only part of the story.
The City of Des Plains tells us it did not issue Søndergaard an event permit. What he is holding in his hand as he announces on video that he has secured a permit is actually an approved tent permit.
“Four hours before we start our tent revival, we got our permit,” Søndergaard said on video.
Des Plaines city leaders said the state’s order limiting gatherings to 50 people does not limit the free exercise of religion. It’s why the mayor and city council, in a special session Tuesday night, strengthened their own COVID-19 guidelines – now requiring masks and social distancing at any and all events.
We found police onsite Wednesday interacting with attendees, but our cameras saw the group continued to closely socialize as before. The warnings were newly posted on a road sign just outside the venue, where those on a nature hike expressed their concerns and turned around.
“If it had to be with a group of people, I don’t understand why they wouldn’t want to keep others safe,” said Martha Martinez.
We reached out to Søndergaard for a comment. He did not respond, but on Facebook, he said Chicago and Des Plains are trying to shut down the revival and asked for prayers.
He wrote in part: “We have sent a letter to The President of The United States to ask for his help. I’m asking all Americans to pray now for a supernatural intervening to stop this socialist agenda before we become like China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela or Iran.”
As to the executive order restricting events like the tent revival the fine is $750 for each violation, and it would mount each day. It is not clear whether the fine amounts to $750 per person in attendance or $750 per day.
Søndergaard’s group was scheduled to be in Des Plaines through next weekend then head on to New Hampshire for a similar revival there next month.