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Chicago police fine Pentecostal churches for violating 10-person limit

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CNA Staff, May 21, 2020 / 03:10 pm MT (CNA).- Three churches in Chicago have been fined after defying an order banning services of more than 10 people on Sunday, May 17. A former mayoral candidate, who attended one of the services, has said that he will pay the fines.

Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, Philadelphia Romanian Church of God and Metro Praise International Church were cited on Wednesday by the Chicago Police Department for exceeding the state of Illinois’ stay-at-home order and city social distancing policies which currently ban religious gatherings of more than 10 people. The churches were each fined $500.

“The Chicago Police Department has been working to ensure full compliance with the [stay-at-home] order,” said the police department in a statement.

“As part of this effort, we continue to ask everyone to help slow the spread of the virus by staying home and practicing social distancing so that once we have begun to recover and reopen, residents can return to their religious services in a safe manner.”

The city further announced that no-parking zones would be established near churches to dissuade potential worshipers from attending.

On Wednesday, Chicago businessman and former mayoral candidate Willie Wilson, who attended one of the church services last weekend, said he would pay the fines for the churches.

“The governor and mayor continue to trample on our constitutional rights while hiding behind a Stay at Home Order that treats the church as non-essential,” said Wilson in a statement. “It is shameful that the church is discriminated against, while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and Home Depot [are] treated as essential businesses.”

Earlier this month, Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker announced a five-part plan for reopening the state. Originally, gatherings of ten or fewer people were not allowed until phase 3, at earliest, on May 29.

Following a lawsuit by another church in the state, the governor allowed citizens to leave their homes for religious services as long as ten or fewer people are gathered for worship.

Previously, religious services of any kind in the state—including drive-in and in-person services—were curtailed during the pandemic, and even other forms of sacramental practice such as drive-in confessions were not allowed.

Pritzker has said that gatherings of more than 50 people will not be allowed until a vaccine or effective treatment for the coronavirus is made available, which could potentially be next year.

The Archdiocese of Chicago suspended the public celebration of Mass in March. The archdiocese announced on May 1 that public Masses with 10 or fewer people would resume. On May 13, the archdiocese announced a reopening plan that had been created with the guidance and cooperation of the governor’s office, and has since issued detailed instructions for the wearing of masks during Mass, for the distribution of Communion.

Despite the governor’s order, Metro Praise International Church wrote on its Facebook page earlier this month that they would hold services at their normal times as a “passive resistance” to the continued restrictions.

“This is a principled stand for our First Amendment rights and, more importantly, our biblical mandate to gather with other Christians in worship and fellowship (Hebrews 10:24-25),” said the church. “Therefore, effective May 10, 2020, we will resume our 9am and 11am services as we had before the order.”

The pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church told local media in Chicago that he would continue to hold services, even with the looming threat of arrest.

“Incarceration? I truly believe the mayor and the governor would not want to go there,” said Pastor Cristian Ionescu, adding that the arrest of a pastor would be a “PR disaster” for the city.

Fox News reported that the church required congregants to meet 13 criteria to attend among them having no coronavirus symptoms and being younger than 65 years old. The congregation was limited to 75 people, less than 10% of church capacity.

Also on Wednesday, the bishops in the state of Minnesota issued a letter announcing that parishes would resume public celebration of Mass in defiance of a state order prohibiting religious gatherings from exceeding 10 people.

“It is now permissible for an unspecified number of people to go to shopping malls and enter stores, so long as no more than 50 percent of the occupancy capacity is reached. Big-box stores have hundreds of people inside at any one time,” the Minnesota bishops wrote.

While noting that “there is no state mandate that customers wear masks in those malls or stores, wash their hands consistently, or follow any specific cleaning protocol,” the state continued to bar more that 10 people from gathering in a church of any size.

“An order that sweeps so broadly that it prohibits, for example, a gathering of 11 people in a Cathedral with a seating capacity of several thousand defies reason,” the bishops of Minnesota’s six dioceses said in a May 20 statement.

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