coronavirus illinois

Protests Erupt as a Chicago Church Continues to Hold Services Amid Coronavirus

The Chicago Police Department says they will take action, if necessary

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As some churches in Chicago reopen despite the governor's stay-at-home order, protesters on Sunday said in person services are causing high risk to neighbors.

The Metro Praise International church in Chicago's Belmont Cragin neighborhood has been holding in person services for the past two weeks.

Joseph Wyrostek, pastor at Metro Praise International, waved the church's flag at a protest Sunday saying they will continue to worship.

"We've got social distancing, masks, no interaction, let's go in and have church," Wyrostek said. "You going to go to Walmart, Target today, let's go to church."

Mostly from vehicles, protesters said they do not feel this church should be able to worship in person.

"It's up to the city to come in and enforce their 10 and over rule, but I think we've done a good job in making sure our community is a little safer," protester Alonso Zaragoza said.

The Belmont Cragin neighborhood has a significant number of coronavirus cases, according to reports from officials.

Chicago businessman and politician Willie Wilson said the governor and mayor have failed to include different churches in the conversation in their reopening plans.

Wilson was invited to speak at the Philadelphia Romanian Church of God in Ravenswood, which is also holding in person services.

"We have a constitutional right," Florin Cimpean, pastor of the Ravenswood church, said. "We do not want to make a statement or create problems here, it's a very small group of people, we want to serve our community, it's about timing."

Cimpean said the church is a "spiritual hospital" and that they provide for people both spiritually and mentally. He said their church's guidelines are stricter than anywhere else.

"We want to encourage the businesses to reopen, everyone who has a job to get back to work and the churches should lead the way." Wyrostek said.

Chicago police officers stood outside both churches Sunday, but only gave tickets for parking violations.

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.

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.

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