Lake County churches declare victory after Gov. Pritzker releases new guidelines for houses of worship

LAKE COUNTY, Ill. (WLS) -- Governor JB Pritzker announced new guidelines Thursday for houses of worship to follow as the state moves into Phase Three of its reopening plan. Once the guidelines were released, an organization representing five Lake County churches that recently filed a lawsuit declared victory.

"This is a total and complete victory for people of faith," said Peter Breen, the vice president of the Thomas More Society, in a statement. "Illinois' governor and his administration abused the COVID-19 pandemic to stomp on the religious liberty of the people of Illinois."

Gov. Pritzker released the new guidelines during a news conference Thursday afternoon.

"We're not providing restrictions," he said. "We're simply providing the best recommendations that we can for keeping people safe, so we hope the pastors will follow that guidance."

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The new guidelines emphasize that remote and drive-in services remain the safest options, followed by outdoor services.

Because COVID-19 is spread through respiratory droplets, the guidelines recommend avoiding the riskiest activities like singing and person-to-person contact. Food and beverages are not allowed, and everyone should wear face coverings, according to the new guidelines.

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Before the guidelines were announced, five churches in Lake County came together to sue the governor, arguing the state's executive orders were "violating religious freedom."

Pastor Ken Fielding of Zion's Christian Assembly of God was particularly incensed about running a food pantry, which receives state funding and is considered essential, and not being able to hold Sunday services.

"It's really inconsistent, and it really drives me crazy because we're a church with a food pantry, not a food pantry with a church," Pastor Fielding said. "And so our primary purpose is to feed the people's souls and we can't do that."

The governor's spokeswoman, Jordan Abudayyeh, warned that attending church is still a high-risk activity. She said the guidelines are new, but churches have always been allowed to do what they want.

But those who filed a lawsuit on the churches' behalf see the new guidelines as a win for worshippers.

"Today, people of faith across Illinois should breathe a little freer, as their government has finally recognized their fundamental freedom of religion," Breen said in a statement.
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