Church lots reportedly blocked in Chicago, small biz owners threatened with fines and jail in Illinois

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Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that churches are still not allowed to hold in-person services as police enforced Illinois’ stay-at-home order by blocking parking lots.

The city “will be taking action” to fine churches found in violation of the governor’s statewide order on Sunday, Lightfoot said on Monday as she requested places of worship hold off meeting at least until June. Her comments came after reports that police were blocking church parking lots on Sunday in an effort to discourage large gatherings.

(Source: NBC Chicago)

“Certainly there were some churches that congregated in excess of the allowable number, and we will be taking action as to those individuals and those churches,” Lightfoot said, according to CBS Chicago.

Pastor Cristian Ionescu called out the city’s “vindictive” efforts after police blocked people from the private parking lot at Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church on Sunday.

“They are harassing us,” he told the NBC Chicago, vowing to keep his church open and risk going to jail.

“Incarceration? I truly believe the mayor and the governor would not want to go there,” he said. “For them it is going to be a PR disaster.”

His church, along with Logos Baptist Ministries in Niles, had requested a temporary restraining order against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s restrictions, but U.S. District Judge Robert Gettleman denied the motion last week. Even as other area churches announced they would hold services in defiance of the Democrat governor’s orders, following coronavirus safety guidelines, the Chicago Police Department noted in a statement that the city was banning parking in order to prevent people from congregating in groups.

“Officers will continue to monitor any possible large gatherings in their districts and issue any citations where necessary,” the department said, according to The Hill.

Meanwhile, Lightfoot threatened that gatherings of more than 10 people for in-person worship would be met with fines and police had already reportedly given out citations at city churches that opened on Sunday.

Though Pritzker issued an update to his stay-at-home order allowing “free exercise of religion,” gatherings were still required to remain under 10 people. The Democrat also ordered that Illinois business owners will be charged with a Class A misdemeanor if they violate the state’s coronavirus stay-at-home order.

Owners of restaurants, salons and gyms, among others, can now face fines up to $2,500 and up to one year in jail for defying Pritzker who filed an emergency rule last week.

“Only businesses that pose a serious risk to public health and refuse to comply with health regulations would be issued a citation,” a spokesperson for Pritzker’s office told The New York Times. “The rule gives law enforcement a tool that may be more appropriate and less severe than closing the business altogether.”

“The new emergency rule [from Pritzker] that makes it a crime to violate his executive orders is an affront to the separation of powers,” Illinois Republican state Sen. Dan McConchie said in a statement slamming the new rule.

Pritzker claimed on Monday that he is “extraordinarily reluctant” to confront churches violating the stay-at-home order.

“The job, the goal here is to keep people safe. I want people also to be able to worship. There are many ways in which to do that during this time, and I know it’s very difficult,” he said, according to CBS Chicago.

“So many people care deeply about the community that is their church or their mosque or their synagogue; I do too, and so we want to get back to it as soon as we can, but we have to keep each other safe, and I hope that faith leaders will heed the public health concerns, and follow the reopening plan,” he added.

Some residents protested against the churches, claiming their gatherings are a risk to the community.

“No parking” notices were placed around the neighborhood and near the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church on Sunday, according to Liberty Counsel which slammed Lightfoot for engaging in “mob-like thuggery.”

“Even though these churches have their own private parking, and their members don’t park on the street, the mayor ordered “No Parking” signs along the streets for nine blocks around the churches,” the legal organization representing the church reported.

“The actions by the Illinois Governor and Chicago Mayor are reminiscent of mob-like thuggery. These pastors lived under Communist Romania, and now the suppression of the church and their faith has come to their adopted homeland,” Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said. “The outrageous action by Mayor Lori Lightfoot is putting people in danger. These heavy-handed tactics are unconstitutional and will not succeed.”


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