coronavirus illinois

Chicago Pastor Applauds President Trump's Decision to Call Churches ‘Essential'

The president on Friday threatened to “override” governors who defy him in blocking religious services

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The pastor of a Chicago church that filed a lawsuit over Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order on Friday commended President Trump for deeming religious services "essential."

Just hours earlier, President Trump called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

The president threatened to “override” governors who defy him, but it was unclear what authority he has to do so.

Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood was one of two city churches issued citations earlier this week for violating the state's stay-at-home order.

Under Illinois' reopening plan, religious services with 10 or fewer people are currently allowed, but gatherings of 50 or fewer people will not be allowed until Phase Four of the plan.  

Cristian Ionescu, pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, said the news from President Trump is what he had been praying for.

"I think the president was right on target," he said. "It was timely."

Chicago businessman Willie Wilson, who committed to paying the fines at Elim Romanian and the second church, Metro Praise International Church in Belmont Craigin, continues to be critical of restrictions placed on religious institutions.

At a press conference on Friday, President Donald Trump announced that he is immediately declaring places of worship as essential and threatened to "override" any governors that prevent them from opening this weekend. He did not not cite any specific authority to enforce the command.

"It is wrong to allow someone to come into your life and tell you what you cannot do with your religion — your faith," he said.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot previously said she has had "very good, candid conversations" with faith leaders, but has requested that churches wait to hold services until she slowly reopens the city in June.

But Friday President Trump stressed the importance of churches in many communities and said he was “identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services.”

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential."

Meanwhile, at Elim Romanian Church, Pastor Ionescu said he plans to defy Pritzker's order once again this week and plans to fill the church at 15% capacity while following U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

"We are going to peacefully and responsibly gather on Sunday here at the church," he said.

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