Chicago threatens to temporarily close churches that defy gathering restrictions
The city of Chicago has threatened to temporarily close at least three churches that continue to violate the governor’s executive order by holding in-person worship services with over ten people during the early phases of the city’s coronavirus reopening plan.
Chicago Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady sent letters to congregations on Saturday, informing them that if they continue to hold in-person worship services with over ten attendees, the city has the authority under state law to force churches to comply with state orders.
Arwady argued in the letter that the state has the power “to order that a location be closed and made off-limits to the public to prevent the probable spread of a dangerously contagious or infectious diseases until such a time as the condition can be corrected or the danger to the public health eliminated or reduced in such a manner that no substantial danger to the public’s health any longer exists.”
One of the churches that received the letter is Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park, a church that has sued for a temporary injunction against the state order but had its motion rejected by a federal judge.
The Pentecostal church received an order from Arwady on the 15th of May directing it not to hold gatherings at its house of worship on North Bernard Street until public health officials indicate that it is safe to do so. However, the congregation reportedly held gatherings “far in excess of ten individuals allowed by the Executive Order” and was later issued an administrative notice of violation by the Chicago Police Department.”
“If you continue to operate in defiance of the Executive Order, the City will pursue all available legal remedies, including those outlined above. Any future gatherings conducted contrary to the Order will be considered a failure to abate and the City will take steps necessary to abate, including Summary Abatement,” Arwady said in her letter.
The conservative religious freedom nonprofit Liberty Counsel, which is representing Elim and other Romanian churches in the city, argued in a statement that the city’s threat to conduct a summary abatement is tantamount to a threat to “close or destroy churches.”