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Churchgoers in Chicago could face citations for attending in-person services on Sunday, according to the mayor’s office.
Dozens of churches across the country, including a handful in Illinois, participated in “Peaceably Gather Sunday,” organized by Kentucky pastor Brian Gibson, which sought to defy states’ coronavirus stay-at-home orders. In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker‘s order doesn’t allow more than 10 people at a place of worship.
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city was prepared to enforce the orders against houses of worship that hold in-person services, and though Chicago police said there were no arrests made or citations issued Sunday, that could change in the coming days, the Chicago Tribune reports.
“The local districts are reviewing reports of large gatherings that took place today at various establishments not abiding by the Stay at Home order,” Lightfoot said Sunday night in a statement. “Following that review, the Department will issue and mail citations where necessary.”
Lightfoot, who defended a haircut because she is the “public face” of the city, warned arrests could be made earlier this month, saying, “We will shut you down, we will cite you, and if we need to, we will arrest you and we will take you to jail,” FOX 32 reports.
Jeremy Dys, special counsel for litigation and communications at First Liberty Institute, which represented two churches in the state holding in-person services, questions Lightfoot’s actions.
“Rather than criminally prosecute pastors, priests, or rabbis, why wouldn’t the mayor of Chicago find creative ways for Americans to safely and prudently engage the free exercise of their religion?” Dys told Fox News. “After all, the same people who are safely social distancing at the grocery store are the same people hoping to safely return to their houses of worship.”
Joseph Wyrostek, the pastor at Metro Praise International Church in the city’s Belmont Cargin neighborhood, waved the church’s flag at protesters who were upset that people were attending church on Sunday, NBC 5 reports.
“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.”
Willie Wilson, a local businessman, spoke against Lightfoot at a service in Philadelphia Romanian Church of God in Ravenswood, where the pastor, Florin Cimpean, called the church a “spiritual hospital” needed to help a sick and dying world.
“[Illinois Gov. J.B.] Pritzker has shown total disdain and disrespect for the church,” Wilson, a former mayoral candidate against Lightfoot, said.
Cristian Ionescu, the pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Chicago, held services with more than 100 people on Sunday after the church was denied a request for a temporary restraining order last week by a federal judge.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman rejected the comparison between churches and grocery stores in his ruling and, instead, said they are more comparable to schools, movie theaters or concert halls, where no people are currently gathering.
The ruling came a week after another church, The Beloved Church of Lena, represented by Thomas More Society, failed in its challenge against the governor’s orders.