Facing Supreme Court scrutiny, Pritzker backs off of church limitations

Facing Supreme Court scrutiny, Pritzker backs off of church limitations

SPRINGFIELD, IL — Just hours before his administration was to respond to a challenge to his authority in the U.S. Supreme Court, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office has announced guidance for places of worship to reopen, signaling he’s lifting his restrictions.

Pritzker has been under fire from churches that filed a handful of lawsuits, including one before the U.S. Supreme Court that his administration had to respond to before 8 p.m. Thursday.

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver, representing the two Chicago churches said, “The unilateral actions of Gov. J.B. Pritzker is the classic example of tyranny. He knew he did not have authority to trample on the First Amendment rights of churches and houses of worship, but he did anyway and continued to do so until his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. He cannot be trusted to obey the Constitution. The fact that he recently said that churches would never get above 50 people for at least 12 to 18 months, and now a few hours before he had to file with the Supreme Court he removes all restrictions, illustrates that he had no basis for the orders in the first place. The only thing that changed was he was dragged to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court.”

Despite the change of course, Pritzker said the Illinois Attorney General’s office would be responding to the legal challenge.

Legal teams representing other religious institutions in Illinois said the state’s faithful could “breathe a sigh of relief” that they were no longer being kept from practicing.

“This is a total and complete victory for people of faith,” declared Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen. “Illinois’ governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois. By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois.”

The Thomas More Society was stewarding three legal challenges to Pritzker’s closures of religious facilities.

Pritzker’s new guidance includes:

  • Suggestions for safest services, including remote and drive-in services.
  • Congregate outdoors, weather permitting.
  • Wear face coverings, maintain social distancing, and sanitize surfaces.
  • Refrain from singing and group citation, which they say “significantly increases the risk of transmission of the virus by projecting respiratory droplets.”
  • Maintain groups of ten or fewer.

A public health official in Jackson County in Southern Illinois has blamed a local church for an uptick in COVID-19 cases since they continued operation in defiance of the governor’s orders.

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