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Governor Eases Mandates For Churches, Goes For Guidance Instead

Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives his daily COVID-19 briefing.
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker gives his daily COVID-19 briefing.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker today (Thursday) announced new guidance for places of worship. It comes as he has faced multiple lawsuits over his ban on gatherings of more than 10 people. Pritzker now says faith leaders should try to limit attendance to a quarter of a building’s capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower, along with social distancing. 

“We're not providing restrictions. We're simply providing the best recommendations that we can for keeping people safe. So we hope that the pastor will follow those got that guides and those recommendations for his services. . . or her services. “

The Illinois Department of Public Health is still calling for outdoor or remote services when possible, along with cleaning protocols.

The conservative Thomas More Society responded to the changes by claiming victory and saying Pritzker used the pandemic “to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois.”

“Illinois now has the harshest shutdown order in the country, with little regard for the rights of people of faith and ignoring the current best science,” said Peter Breen, vice president and senior Counsel to the Thomas More Society. “Every one of Illinois’ neighboring states has ‘followed the science’ and taken strong steps to safely reopen both their for-profit businesses and their not-for-profit houses of worship.

“On the eve of the Christian holy day of Pentecost, it’s time to finish the job and secure a safe reopening of our church buildings, giving churches at least equal treatment to law offices, liquor stores, and large retailers,” Breen said in the release.

In terms of other lawsuits, Pritzker said during today's briefing. “Multiple federal judges have reviewed and upheld the approach that we've taken with our executive orders with regard to houses of worship. So you know, these courts have recognized that there's a public health crisis that's ongoing, and the need to take steps to protect public health, as we have, including as related to religious services.  I think we all are aware of circumstances in which there have been infections that have been spread during religious services.”

The governor also said, “I have never encouraged any police enforcement or any other kind of breaking up of gatherings. What I have said is that pastors should use their judgment and the science and data and should follow the recommendations that have been made. But I realized that some have ignored that, that. (some) were held with many people packed together.”

Copyright 2020 NPR Illinois | 91.9 UIS

Maureen Foertsch McKinney is the NPR Illinois News Editor and a lead editor of Illinois Issues' feature articles, working with freelance writers, and is curator of the Equity blog. Maureen joined the staff in 1998 as projects editor. Previously, she worked at three Illinois daily newspapers, most recently the suburban Chicago-based Daily Herald, where she served stints as an education reporter and copy editor. She graduated in 1985 with a bachelor's in journalism. She also has a master's degree in English from the University of Illinois at Springfield.