by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
A Chicago church on Tuesday announced its intentions to appeal to the Supreme Court, following an unfavorable ruling from an Illinois federal appeals court upholding Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s worship ban.
The church, Elim Romanian Pentecostal, has been embroiled in a legal war with Chicago and the state of Illinois since early May when it began opposing the 10-person limit on in-person services. Chicago police issued citations to members of the church after they persisted in defiance of Pritzker’s and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s orders.
Cristian Ionescu, the church’s pastor, told the Chicago Sun-Times at the time that the church was not engaged in “a rebellion for the sake of rebellion.”
“We feel that we are discriminated against,” Ionescu said. “We follow the same rules as other places that are also considered essential, and yet we cannot have more than 10 people in a service, which is ridiculous.”
The case, if the Supreme Court accepts it, will be the first coronavirus church closure case to reach the highest court. Since May, the Supreme Court has rejected two emergency injunctions filed by churches in California and Nevada. Religious liberty experts speculate that these rejections, issued as 5-4 decisions with Chief Justice John Roberts as the swing vote, were delivered because of Roberts’s dislike for granting injunctions in any circumstance.
But the case brought forward by Elim Romanian is different since it is not asking for an injunction, according to Liberty Counsel Chairman Mat Staver, the head of the legal nonprofit group representing the church. By filing with the Supreme Court, he said, Liberty Counsel hopes to force the justices into resolving a now long-running dispute. Citing a decision against churches in California and a decision in favor of churches in Kentucky, Staver concluded that the Supreme Court is in a position to settle the issue definitively.