Romanian Churches File Reply at SCOTUS

May 29, 2020

This morning, Liberty Counsel filed a Reply Brief at the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries. 

Last night, less than four hours before the deadline for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to file his response to the Supreme Court to the emergency injunction request brought by the two Romanian churches, the governor unilaterally removed all restrictions on churches and houses of worship. The guidelines are now only suggestions and contain no legally enforceable requirements whatsoever. The governor is no longer imposing his draconian 10-person limit on church services. 

About three weeks ago, Gov. Pritzker said that churches and houses of worship will have to wait 12 to 18 months before he will consider allowing them to have up to 50 people in attendance, and that time frame he said, depends on tracing, testing, and a vaccine. On April 10, Gov. Pritzker warned of a “second wave,” and during a recent press conference both he and the Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, again warned of a “second wave.” Arwady is the person who sent the May 23 letter to the churches threatening “Summary Abatement.” 

Gov. Pritzker’s unexpected 180-degree turnabout lifting all restrictions on houses of worship mere hours before he had to give an account to the Supreme Court cannot be trusted. He feared a showdown at the High Court. This change was occasioned only because he feared setting a national precedent against him and other governors who have imposed draconian restrictions against churches. His sudden change, combined with his statements about a “second wave,” cannot be trusted to be permanent.

In the Reply Brief, Liberty Counsel argues that the case is not moot because Gov. Pritzker continues to defend his executive orders before the Supreme Court and refuses to provide any assurance that he has seen the light that these orders violate the First Amendment. His sudden change in policy is merely a litigation ploy and should not be countenanced by the courts. 

The emergency request to the Supreme Court was occasioned because of the Chicago Department of Public Health letter sent to the churches this past Saturday, May 23. The city is threatening closure and “summary abatement.” In the threatening letter, Commissioner Allison Arwady, who declared the churches a “public nuisance” for holding services with more than 10 people, wrote: “I am authorized to seek to enjoin such nuisance or to cause the same to be summarily abated in such manner as I may direct….” The letter ended by stating that “the City will take steps necessary to abate, including Summary Abatement.” 

Liberty Counsel’s Reply Brief argues that Gov. Prtizker’s unconstitutional orders are capable of repetition yet evading review. In addition, his supposed voluntary cessation of these orders on churches does not moot the case since just as he unilaterally issued the orders and aggressively enforced them, and now repealed the church restrictions, he could just as easily reinstate them. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Gov. J.B. Pritzker did not have authority to trample on the First Amendment rights of churches and houses of worship. He did anyway and continued to do so until his case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. He cannot be trusted to obey the Constitution. The only thing that changed was he was dragged to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court. While we are happy that all churches and houses of worship no longer have any restrictions, we want to make sure this tyranny and abuse never happens again.” 

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