A federal judge rejected an emergency order filed on behalf of two Romanian churches seeking to hold in-person worship services in spite of a ban implemented by Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker.
U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman, nominated to the the bench by former President Clinton, accused Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries of being selfish.
“Plaintiffs’ request for an injunction, and their blatant refusal to follow the mandates of the Order are both ill-founded and selfish,” the judge wrote in a scathing order. “An injunction would risk the lives of plaintiffs’ congregants, as well as the lives of their family members, friends, co-workers and other members of their communities with whom they come in contact. Their interest in communal services cannot and does not outweigh the health and safety of the public.”
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Liberty Counsel, a religious liberty law firm, immediately filed an appeal.
““Our Romanian pastors know well the value of freedom,” Liberty Counsel founder Mat Staver said in a statement. “Never did they imagine that in the Land of the Free they would be prohibited from holding church services. This happened all too frequently in Communist Romania. The order from the court has not preserved the freedom enshrined in the First Amendment. We look forward to the next step to preserve freedom of religion.”
Gov. Pritzker, a Democrat, banned worship services that include more than 10 people, regardless if the participants meet or exceed the appropriate social distancing and hygiene guidelines.
However, the governor has permitted so-called “essential” businesses like liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and big box stores to operate without limitations.
The judge rejected that argument by noting that congregants do not just stop by Elim Church.
“They congregate to sing, pray, and worship together,” he wrote. “That takes more time than shopping for liquor or groceries. The word ‘congregate,’ from which the term ‘congregation’ derives, means to ‘gather into a crowd or mass.'”
Liberty Counsel said the judge’s assertion that the Christians are “selfish” is insulting.
These pastors and the Romanian people are very familiar with the heavy hand of government against the church in their former Communist Romania, Staver pointed out.
“The right enshrined in the First Amendment for the free exercise of religion is not a right that can be trashed with such an insult. These pastors and churchgoers value freedom, while this order and the restrictions on churches do not,” he said.