Chicago to Fine Churches That Held Services in Violation of Stay-at-Home Order

Religious gatherings have been limited to 10 people under Gov. Pritzker's stay-at-home order

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The city of Chicago will fine churches that violated Illinois' stay-at-home order by holding services with a higher number of people than allowed under social distancing gudelines, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Monday.

Cristian Ionescu, pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, one of churches that violated the state's stay-at-home order, said the church is being harassed by local officials.

Joseph Wyrostek, pastor at Metro Praise International, said the church will continue to hold services despite the guidelines.

Ionescu hopes the city will back off after Chicago police officers blocked parking outside his church Sunday evening. Police also issued citations at other city churches that held services.

"I think this is vindictive," Ionescu said.

The Chicago Police Department said in a statement that they are asking residents to stay home and practice social distancing so that once the city begins to recover and reopen, residents can return to their religious services in a safe manner.

"Officers will continue to monitor any possible large gatherings in their districts and issue any citations where necessary," CPD said in a statement.

Chicago has temporarily banned parking alongside certain establishments as a precaution to prevent planned large gatherings from taking place, according to CPD.

Mayor Lightfoot on Monday requested that churches wait to hold services until she slowly reopens the city in June.

"We want to do it in partnership with members of the faith community and come up with guidance that others can follow," she said.

Last week a federal judge rejected a challenge to Pritzker’s authority to impose stay-at-home orders on churches in the battle against the coronavirus.

U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman denied a request for a temporary restraining order by two churches. Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago and Logos Baptist Ministries in Niles wanted to hold worship services while reducing seating, designating entry and exit points, offering hand sanitizer and cleaning facilities. Elim Romanian held services Sunday despite Pritzker's order.

The judge dismissed the comparison between churches and grocery stores. He asserted churches are more comparable to schools, movie theaters or concert halls, where people are also not gathering.

Pritzker has modified his order to allow the "free exercise of religion," but limited religious gatherings to no more than 10 people.

Pastor Ionescu said he'll keep his church open, even if he risks going to jail.

"Incarceration? I truly believe the mayor and the governor would not want to go there," he said. "For them it is going to be a PR disaster.”

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