The governor of Illinois has withdrawn restrictions on religious services amid the coronavirus pandemic following lawsuits from the Thomas More Society.
The nonprofit law firm hailed Democratic Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker’s Thursday announcement as a victory after the governor said he would remove mandates on Illinois churches requiring no more than 10 or more people to be present at services.
The mandates will be replaced by recommendations from the Illinois Department of Health.
“This guidance does not obligate or encourage places of worship to resume in-person activity,” health officials said, according to NBC Chicago. “Indeed, it is strongly recommended that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services, particularly for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 including older adults and those with co-morbidities.”
“This is a total and complete victory for people of faith,” said Thomas More Society Vice President and Senior Counsel Peter Breen in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“Illinois’ governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois. By issuing guidelines only and not the previously announced mandatory restrictions, he has handed a complete victory to the churches in Illinois,” Breen said.
Breen added that “people of faith across Illinois should breathe a little freer” and emphasized that fundamental freedom of religion is “critical to a self-governing democracy.”
“But the pastors and churches of Illinois should not have had to file repeated lawsuits and state and federal court to secure their basic rights,” he added. “Today marks the end of a shameful chapter of discrimination by the government of the Land of Lincoln against houses of worship and religious leaders.”
A spokeswoman from the Illinois Department of Health told the DCNF Friday that “religious activities have always been deemed essential during this pandemic,” and that the updated guidance for the new phase “is designed to take into account the desire for more worship options, while also trying to keep people safe as possible.”
The Thomas More Society filed three lawsuits against Pritzker’s order: one on behalf of The Beloved Church, one for Jesus House Restoration Ministries in Urbana, and another representing a group of five Lake County churches and their pastors, according to a Thomas More Society press release.
The firm said that Pritzker has loosened other restrictions as a consequence of the lawsuits filed against him. After The Beloved Church’s lawsuit was filed, Pritzker lifted his restrictions on “drive-in” services, Thomas More Society said. Following a complaint filed by Jesus House Restoration Ministries, Pritzker removed restrictions on outdoor religious services, it added.
“Now he has lifted all mandates against how and where the churches and people of Illinois can practice their religion,” the firm said in a press release.
Pritzker did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.
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