UNB! News Chicago

Gov. JB Pritzker’s Extended Stay-At-Home Order Allows Small Religious Gatherings As ‘Essential Activities’

CHICAGO (CBS) — As the governor faces a lawsuit from a northwest Illinois church claiming his original stay-at-home mandate “flagrantly violated the fundamental religious liberties of Illinoisans,” his extended executive order now allows “free exercise of religion” as an essential activity.

Gov. JB Pritzker issued an extended stay-at-home order Thursday night that expands the list of “essential activities” for which people are allowed to leave their homes, to allow them “to engage in the free exercise of religion.” Religious gatherings would still have a limit of no more than 10 people, and they would have to wear face coverings or stay more than six feet away from each other.

The religious gatherings exemption comes after the pastor of Beloved Church in Lena filed a federal lawsuit against the governor, arguing the original stay-at-home mandate “flagrantly violated the fundamental religious liberties of Illinoisans.”

Pastor Steve Cassell noted in his federal lawsuit that the governor’s original stay-at-home order did not deem churches and other houses of worship to be “essential” businesses allowed to remain open, while deeming liquor stores, lawyers, and landscapers as essential.

“The churches and pastors of Illinois are no less ‘essential’ than its liquor stores to the health and well-being of its residents. Defendants have thus intentionally denigrated Illinois churches and pastors and people of faith by relegating them to second-class citizenship,” the lawsuit states.

The Thomas More Society, a public interest law firm representing Cassell in his lawsuit, called the change allowing religious gatherings “a win for their first liberty.”

“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,” said Peter Breen, Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel.

Under the new stay-at-home order, people would be allowed to leave home “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 ten people in keeping with CDC guidelines for the protection of public health. Religious organizations and houses of worship are encouraged to use online or drive-in services to protect the health and safety of their congregants.”

The order’s social distancing guidelines require people to wear a mask or face covering in any public setting where they cannot stay six feet away from other people.

Other “essential activities” for which people are allowed to leave their homes include to shop for groceries or medical supplies; to visit a doctor or veterinarian; to go to work at a business that is open; to care for a family member, friend, or neighbor; or for outdoor activity with social distancing.

CBS Chicago

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