The city of Niles, Illinois has dropped all four “disorderly conduct” charges against a local pastor who was facing an $800 fine for holding church services in defiance of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Pastor Daniel Chiu of Logos Baptist Ministries continued to hold in-person church services in May, despite Governor J.B. Pritzker’s state-at-home order. He was cited four “disorderly conduct” charges as a result, and an $800 fine.
Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel, Mat Staver, called the charges against Pastor Chiu “beyond belief.”
“Think about it – a pastor who survived Communist Romania is charged with ‘disorderly conduct’ for holding a church service in America – the Land of the Free,” Staver said. “This is shameful. The repression against the church under Communism failed, and it will not succeed here in America.”
In May, Logos Baptist Ministries filed a restraining order in partnership with Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church against the governor’s stay-at-home mandate. The restraining order was denied by federal judge Robert Gettleman and by the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
Gettleman called the churches’ request “ill-founded and selfish.”
The churches argued that the governor’s mandate was discriminatory by shutting down churches while allowing grocery stores and other businesses deemed “essential” to gather large numbers of people together in one place at one time.
Gettleman – and subsequently, the Seventh Circuit – disagreed. In his May 13th ruling, Gettleman wrote, “In-person religious services create a higher risk of contagion than operating grocery stores or staffing manufacturing plants.”
On May 16th, the Seventh Circuit upheld Gettleman’s decision: “Worship services do not seem comparable to secular activities permitted under the Executive Order, such as shopping, in which people do not congregate or remain for extended periods.”
Both churches have been resolute in their decision to move forward with services and to fight – by way of “peaceful civil disobedience” – governmental mandates against their First Amendment right to worship.
Elim Romanian Church posted banners on their building reading “Church is essential” and “We can’t keep church closed for one year.” Likewise, Logos Baptist posted a banner of the full text of the First Amendment on their building.
Both churches argued that they were capable of, and determined to, meet the state’s safety requirements for in-person gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Now, however, Pastor Chiu can rest a little easier without the weight of citations and fines on his shoulders.
In a statement released Friday, Liberty Counsel announced that it still plans to move forward with a federal lawsuit against Governor Pritzker “for his unconstitutional executive orders discriminating against churches” and is asking the Supreme Court to review the case.
Illinois is currently under a 5-Phase “Mitigation Plan”, moving gradually from the most restrictive (Phase 1) to a fully re-open state of affairs (Phase 5). All of Illinois is currently in Phase 4 (titled “Revitilization”), which still restricts gatherings of more than 50 people.
Phase 5, which would return the state to normal and lift all restrictions, would require a vaccine, a readily available treatment option, or “no new cases over a sustained period.”