Romanian Pastors Say They Escaped Oppression Only to be Oppressed in Illinois

York, United Kingdom – May 15, 2016: A congregation worship with raised hands at a Christian church service held at St Michael Le Belfry.

A lawyer for First Liberty Institute on Monday criticized the Illinois governor over coronavirus orders aimed at churches that he considers to be unconstitutional.

Kelly Shackelford, the president of the legal firm, told the “Todd Starnes Show” that he believes governors “really overplaying their power.”

“We want public health protected—and I think the churches have been the first to help make that happen,” he said.

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Gov. JB Pritzker, the Democrat from Illinois, has already faced lawsuits over his decision to ban all gatherings of more than ten people until Stage 4 of his state’s reopening, which some say could be a year.

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“To everyone listening, we are in possibly the most difficult part of this journey,” Pritzker said last week. “I know how badly we all want our normal lives back. Believe me. If I could make that happen right now I would. But this is the part where we have to dig in and we have to understand that the sacrifices that we’ve made as a state to avoid a worst-case scenario are working. And we need to keep going a little while longer to finish the job.”

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Health officials have maintained that strict social distancing orders are the reason why the coronavirus outbreak has been somewhat manageable. The virus is highly contagious. Church leaders and some nonessential business owners say governor’s like Pritzker have unfairly targeted places of worship and other establishments.

“To tell—especially small churches in rural areas—that they can’t meet, even when their [congregants] are far apart, and they’re doing social distancing, even where things are disinfected, there’s no reason to treat them in a lesser way when they have elevated constitutional freedoms,” Shackelford said.

The Chicago Sun-Times reported that Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park defied the governor’s orders this past weekend after asking for a temporary restraining order.

“We feel that we are discriminated against,” Cristian Ionescu, Elim Romanian’s senior pastor, told the Sun-Times. He pointed out that large groups of people are able to frequent hardware stores and supermarkets. “We follow the same rules as other places that are also considered essential, and yet we cannot have more than 10 people in a service, which is ridiculous.”

Ionescu, who is a religious refugee from Romania, told the paper that the stay-at-home orders reminded him of the oppression he faced before moving to the U.S. He told the paper that his service went on uninterrupted by police.

“Not because we would have reacted negatively, but it would have been a [public relations] disaster,” he said.

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