Romanian-American pastors and churches in Chicago say ENOUGH!
In an open letter released today, six pastors and churches representing over 2,700 congregants tell Illinois Governor JB Pritzker that they will no longer obey his unconstitutional edicts that discriminate against their churches, and they WILL re-open their churches on Sunday, May 10, 2020.
The churches announce a detailed, 10-point safety protocol that they are implementing to keep their members safe, which meets and exceeds CDC guidelines being followed by other “essential” organizations and businesses.
READ the full text letter, below. These pastors tell Governor Pritzker that they and their churches have risked everything to find Freedom in their beloved adopted Nation, and they are determined to do everything that they can to ensure that it remains Free.
We are filing a massive federal lawsuit in Chicago next week, asking the Court to intervene and prohibit the Governor from punishing these Pastors and Churches for standing on their God-given, constitutionally-guaranteed right to be treated equally. But no matter how long it takes us to prevail in the courts, and no matter what the cost is in the interim, these Churches WILL be OPEN next Sunday.
So much is at stake. Pray for Victory!
FULL TEXT OF OPEN LETTER TO GOVERNOR PRITZKER:
Governor J.B. Pritzker
Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Pritzker:
We the undersigned are Pastors and faith leaders of Romanian-American churches in Metropolitan Chicago. Our congregations, some large and some small, comprise over 2,700 congregants. We have for decades faithfully served our communities within the State of Illinois, both in preaching the Gospel and through a multitude of vibrant programs and outreaches.
The Romanian-Americans in our congregations have chosen Chicago as their homeland, many of them after fleeing communist oppression that targeted religious gatherings, houses of worship and communal exercise of their religion and faith.
We found a home in Illinois, where the promise of freedom has been consistently and faithfully achieved, until your Executive Order 2020-10 unlawfully required that our churches shut their doors to our congregants, irrespective of any social distancing and health precautions that we are willing and able to implement, while allowing many other non-religious businesses and organization to remain open.
We love our adopted country, and the Freedom we have found here, too much to stay silent as you trample on our God-given rights. In light of our shared experience living behind the Iron Curtain – where discriminatory treatment of Churches by authoritarian governments was the norm – we are determined to do everything that we can to ensure that our beloved country and our State remain the beacons of freedom that brought us here.
We recognize your recent attempt to change course, yet we deem your April 30, 2020 allowance of churches to gather together with only 10 persons or less wholly inadequate. We regard this as further evidence of the arbitrary nature of your orders.
You have allowed supermarkets, liquor stores, hardware stores, abortion clinics and a host of other businesses deemed “essential” to operate without the same limitations. You have singled out churches as not essential, and you have closed our doors even though we are willing and able to implement the same safety measures employed by those that remain open. This is a flagrant violation of the United States Constitution, and the liberties we have risked our lives to be able to enjoy in this once-free Nation.
Our willing compliance with your orders thus far has been voluntary. But this should not be misunderstood as our acquiescence to the improper and unconstitutional authority you have sought to exercise over our worship.
Your orders are in clear violation of our First Amendment rights. The Constitution and the rights enshrined therein are not suspended during a pandemic, and neither is our religion.
Please be advised that, beginning on May 10, 2020, our congregations will resume in-person church gatherings, and we will no longer adhere to the 10-person limit or the other unconstitutional restrictions comprised within your orders.
Our corporate worship is not only commanded by the Holy Scripture, but it has been a foundational element of religious duty in the Christian Church for over 2,000 years. This has been the sacred practice of the Romanian-American faith community in Chicago for decades. These gatherings are how we worship our God, and the means by which our soul is healed and restored.
We have not only a biblical mandate but also a legal right to meet. The prohibition on religious assembly and church worship services under various government COVID-19 closure orders have already been successfully challenged as a violation of the First Amendment.
In a decision issued on May 2, 2020, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeal entered an injunction against Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, and rebuked his unequal treatment of churches in his COVID-19 orders. See Maryville Baptist Church, Inc. v. Andy Beshear, Case No. 20-5427 (6th Cir.), copy available at http://lc.org/PDFs/Attachments2PRsLAs/2020/
The Sixth Circuit held that “Orders prohibiting religious gatherings, enforced by police officers telling congregants they violated a criminal law and by officers taking down license plate numbers, amount to a significant burden on worship gatherings.” The Sixth Circuit also held that treating churches differently from other “essential” or “life sustaining” non-religious organizations and businesses violates the Constitution.
In a stunning rebuke of Governor Beshear’s constitutional overreach, which is similar to yours, the Sixth Circuit said that “while the law may take periodic naps during a pandemic, we will not let it sleep through one.”
In two other cases, the federal district courts have stated unequivocally that the government has no right to close churches, even in times of a pandemic, and certainly no right to treat churches unequally from other non-religious groups, organizations and business that are deemed “essential” and allowed to remain open. See, e.g., On Fire Christian Center, Inc. v. Fischer, No. 3:20-CV-264-JRW, 2020 WL 1820249 (W.D. Ky. Apr. 11, 2020) (“On Fire”); First Baptist Church v. Kelly, No. 20-1102-JWB, 2020 WL 1910021 (D. Kan. Apr. 18, 2020) (“First Baptist”). A copy of the court opinions in On Fire may be found at http://lc.org/042920OnFireOpinion.pdf, and in First Baptist may be found at http://lc.org/042920FirstBaptistTRO.pdf.
Both of these cases recognize that – even during COVID-19 – the government may not prohibit churches from hosting drive-in and parking lot worship services (On Fire), and may not prohibit churches from hosting in-person worship services on equal terms with other businesses and organizations that are permitted to remain open provided certain guidelines are practiced (First Baptist).
We recognize that you have limited gatherings with the stated goal of reducing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting medical staff. We share this desire and commit to doing our part in protecting the physical well-being of all those who attend our church services.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, we will implement protocols such as those recommended by the CDC, including but not limited to:
(1) reduced seating for our in-person worship services;
(2) our churches with moveable chairs will remove some of the chairs to maintain proper social distancing;
(3) we will mark chairs or pews for use or non-use, and/or ushers can seat people with social distancing guidelines (while our family units can be seated together);
(4) prior to and following any in-person service, our facilities will be sanitized;
(5) attendees will be advised that, if they choose, they may wear masks and/or gloves;
(6) attendees will be advised not to engage in hand shaking or other physical contact;
(7) hand sanitizer will be available for use throughout the facility, and each person may be given a squirt of sanitizer or a sanitizer wipe upon entering;
(8) we will have selected points of entry and exit separated from each other establishing a one-way traffic pattern;
(9) our doors will be propped open or held open by ushers to prevent the need for congregants to touch doors while entering and exiting the church or sanctuary; and
(10) we will ask anyone with any symptoms of COVID-19 illness, anyone who works in healthcare facilities that treat COVID-19 patients, and those that are elderly and/or with auto-immune issues to forego our in-person gatherings for a time.
These steps and others not enumerated here demonstrate our commitment to the well-being of the members of our congregations. This level of care and attention cannot be ordered by the state. We do this out of religious duty – it is our privilege to care for the bodies and the souls in our congregation, because no one can love our congregants more than we do.
We respectfully ask you to reverse the orders that discriminate against our churches and trample on our constitutional freedoms.
In the meantime, and until you reverse course, we have authorized our legal counsel to immediately challenge your unconstitutional orders in federal court.
And, irrespective of how long you or the Courts take to vindicate our inalienable and non-negotiable rights, and to return the Constitution from exile in our State, our decision is settled: we will reopen our churches on May 10, 2020.
We pray unceasingly for you, for our state and for our Nation. May our Lord God, the Author and Creator of Freedom, abundantly bless you with wisdom, and continue to bless and heal our Land.
El Roi Romanian Baptist Church
200 N. Main, Mount Prospect, IL 60056
Pastor Rev. Sorin Sabou, Ph. D.
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church
4850 N Bernard St, Chicago, IL 60625
Pastor Rev. Cristian Ionescu
Emmanuel Romanian Pentecostal Church
4600 N Kilpatrick Ave, Chicago, IL 60630
Pastor Rev. Cosmin Ilioni
Golgota Romanian Pentecostal Church
10100 S 52nd Ave, Oak Lawn, IL 60453
Pastors: Rev. Pavel Sav and Rev. Constantin Lupancu
Logos Romanian Baptist Church
7280 N Caldwell Ave, Niles, IL 60714
Pastor: Minister Daniel Chiu, Ph.D.
Philadelphia Romanian Church of God
1713 W Sunnyside Ave, Chicago, IL 60640
Pastor: Rev. Bishop Florin T. Cimpean, M.Div.
Horatio G. Mihet
Vice President of Legal Affairs and
Chief Litigation Counsel