A church in Illinois has filed a lawsuit against Democrat Governor J.B. Pritzker for violating the First Amendment and the state’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The lawsuit, filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of The Beloved Church in Lena, claims that the governor has a “hostility” towards religious faith.
Pastor Steve Cassell is seeking a temporary restraining order to stop him from being arrested if he holds a service at the beginning of May.
“The spiritual well-being of the people of Illinois is just as important as their temporal well-being during these dark times,” said Thomas More Society senior counsel Peter Breen, according to a report from the Washington Examiner. “Keeping liquor stores open but indefinitely shutting down churches and religious ministries violates our Constitution and our most basic liberties. If liquor stores are ‘essential,’ so are churches.”
The lawsuit continues on to argue that the goal of “flattening the curve” to prevent hospitals from being overrun was successful and that it is now time to allow people to return to church.
“‘Flattening the curve’ to preserve hospital capacity was the principal reason for Pritzker’s orders: that aim has now been achieved,” the lawsuit said. “Yet Pritzker’s orders as to churches and religious activities have not changed one iota from the early days of the coronavirus epidemic — when COVID-19 cases were growing exponentially, and policymakers feared millions would die — to today — when the level of coronavirus infections is stable.”
The Examiner report notes that the lawsuit claims that by extending the order, while allowing adding activities such as golfing, dog grooming, and fishing to “essential” activities, Pritzker is in violation of Illinois’s RFRA, which states that government restrictions on churches must be “narrowly tailored” to advance a “compelling interest” of the government.
“This has now gone on for almost a month and a half, with another month to come, and with no end in sight,” the lawsuit said. “No thought has been given to regional differences in these orders. No consideration has been made for church size. No allowance has been made in relation to particular individuals’ risk factors for coronavirus. No explanation has been offered to tie any spread of the coronavirus to a particular community. These orders cannot meet strict scrutiny.”
There are currently ten states that have banned all religious services during the pandemic, including Illinois. There have been multiple lawsuits by churches in those states.