Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that his administration wants to help churches to hold services during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but stopped short of saying that indoor services will be allowed as COVID-19 restrictions remain in place.
Pritzker was asked about his administration’s handling of church services during his daily coronavirus press briefing on Wednesday, and said that while he has encouraged churches to hold drive-in and outdoor services, he still wants to ensure that parishioners remain safe during the pandemic.
“As you’ve heard Dr. (Ngozi) Ezike say, she would like very much for services to go back to some sort of indoor services, so I’m hopeful that we will be able to accomplish something even more than we’re already doing,” he said.
Pritzker’s comments come after Dr. Willie Wilson, an outspoken critic of Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s handling of the question of allowing religious services, announced that he had written a letter to President Donald Trump asking for the federal government’s help in forcing the state to allow churches to reopen their doors.
“I have asked the federal government to step in and prevent religious intimidation tactics being deployed by Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker,” Wilson said. “Clearly they have used the stay-at-home order due to COVID-19 to shred the constitution and treat churches as non-essential, while treating liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and big box stores as essential.”
Wilson called the stay-at-home orders, which prevent gatherings of more than 10 people, “religious intimidation.”
“This level of religious intimidation is unacceptable, outrageous, and in direct contravention of the Constitution, and must be met with a strong federal response,” he said.
Trump has weighed in on the subject recently, saying that church services are “essential” and encouraging states to allow in-person services, as long as they adhere to the CDC’s guidelines on sanitation and social distancing.
Pritzker and Lightfoot have repeatedly said that in-person services cannot be safely held due to the pandemic, with Lightfoot’s administration issuing citations to several churches that have held indoor services in defiance of the state order.
“We’ve done a lot to open churches to provide guidelines for churches and indeed we’ve asked churches to bring us their plans for how to open safely,” Pritzker said. “I want as much as anybody else to make sure that people who want to worship in church or a mosque or a synagogue to be able to do that. I think it’s an extraordinarily personal important thing to so many people across the state of Illinois, (but) I also want to make sure that people don’t get sick doing it.”
The pastors of two Chicago churches in particular have vocally opposed the state’s orders, with Metro Praise International Church and Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church holding services in defiance of the state order.
Both churches have received citations from the city of Chicago, but Wilson announced that he would pay the fines faced by both congregations.