Mayor Lightfoot threatens citations against churchgoers who defy stay at home orders

Per WashingtonExaminer, churchgoers defying stay-at-home initiatives amid the coronavirus pandemic could receive citations in the Chicago area.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said last week the city was preparing to enforce restrictions meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus against houses of worship holding in-person services.

After churchgoers decided to attend services anyway on Sunday, Lightfoot said in a statement that city officials are working with law enforcement to monitor large gatherings, including ones of faith, according to the Chicago Tribune.

ChicagoTribune reports met by protesters and defying the stay-at-home order, Michael Valentine attended services Sunday at Metro Praise International Church in Belmont Cragin, an area that has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus.

“There is something great about praising the Lord when you’re with other brothers and sisters,” the 24-year-old said. “It’s powerful, and it strengthens your faith and encourages you, especially during times like these.”

Valentine joined at least 100 other members of the congregation who also decided to attend the in-person services, according to the Rev. Joseph Wyrostek, one of the religious leaders advocating for local and state governments to allow all churches to open as soon as possible.

Wyrostek is not alone. Across the country, a growing assortment of church and faith leaders has been pressing for government restrictions on worship services to be lifted.

Nearly 200 church leaders, including a handful in Illinois, have signed an online petition called Peaceably Gather, started by a Texas megachurch pastor, the Rev. Brian Gibson. There, faith leaders can affirm their desire to reopen. Gibson, in spelling out the reasons for the online petition, states, “it’s not just ironic, it’s a deliberate slap in the face to religious freedom” that people are allowed inside grocery stores or Walmart but cannot attend church.

Jon Callahan, the lead pastor of Harvest Church in Urbana, saw the petition on Facebook and decided to sign.

“We just kind of feel like our rights are being trampled on,” Callahan said Sunday when reached by phone at the independent, nondenominational evangelical church, which is not affiliated with the Harvest Bible Chapel network of churches in the Chicago area. “It’s time to get things back to normal.”

Callahan said he does not believe Gov. J.B. Pritzker has the authority or the power to continue to prevent churches from holding in-person services. He wants to host worship services for church members with safeguards in place, including practicing social distancing, blocking off every other row inside the church and providing hand sanitizer. Callahan said he would not require masks. In a typical week, fewer than 100 people attend services at the church, which was founded in 1984.

Back in Chicago, at Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church in Albany Park, the Rev. Cristian Ionescu said that nearly 115 people attended the church’s morning service and the same number was expected for the evening service. Ionescu said he has not received any complaints from neighbors.

Last week, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot said the city was prepared to enforce stay-at-home orders against houses of worship that hold in-person services. Chicago police said there were no arrests made or citations issued. On Sunday evening, Lightfoot’s office said in a statement that city officials worked with the Police Department to monitor large gatherings that defied the stay-at-home order, including faith gatherings.

“The local districts are reviewing reports of large gatherings that took place today at various establishments not abiding by the Stay at Home order,” the statement read. “Following that review, the Department will issue and mail citations where necessary.”