Northwest Illinois church holds services days after filing lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker over stay-at-home order

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — A rural Illinois church held services Sunday just days after it filed a federal lawsuit against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order, contending his executive actions were discriminatory against religious practices, according to a spokesman for the church’s attorneys and an attorney for the local police chief.

The Beloved Church, a roughly 80-person congregation in the northwest Illinois town of Lena in Stephenson County, announced in a news release it would provide masks and hand sanitizer to worshippers, and families would be situated 6 feet apart to respect social distancing recommendations by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The service had “about the same number for average attendance,” with about 60 to 80 people, “with social distancing,” said Tom Ciesielka, a spokesman for the Thomas More Society, a Chicago-based conservative public interest law firm that filed the lawsuit on the church’s behalf. He called the service “uneventful.”

Lena police Chief Steve Schaible, a defendant in the lawsuit, referred all inquiries to his attorney, Dominick Lanzito. Lanzito said it was his understanding there was no enforcement action of the executive order taken at Sunday’s service.

The governor said the church should not have held services Sunday.

“They shouldn’t have been having services at all, unless they were in groups of 10 or less,” Pritzker said.

“Again, this is temporary,” he said. “People need to understand that, especially faith leaders, that keeping your parishioners safe is the most important thing that you can do.”

The service comes three days after the Thomas More Society filed the lawsuit. The suit alleges Pritzker, law enforcement and public health officials have “intentionally denigrated Illinois churches and pastors and people of faith by relegating them to second-class citizenship.”

Church leaders failed to convince a judge to grant them a temporary restraining order that would have formally kept restrictions under the order from applying to them, according to court records, Ciesielka and Pritzker.

The governor has said large gatherings pose a public health risk to communities in which they occur, and encourages parishioners across Illinois to request that services be canceled or held online during the stay-at-home order. A revision late Thursday in the governor’s order, after the lawsuit was filed, added “free exercise of religion” as a permitted essential activity to the order, but limits religious gatherings to 10 people or fewer, in line with limits on all gatherings laid out in the order.


(Chicago Tribune’s Patrick M. O’Connell contributed to this report.).


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