In a virtual town hall meeting on Tuesday night, local state representatives discussed the lifting of restrictions on worship services during the coronavirus pandemic.
State representatives Terri Bryant, Patrick Windhorst and Dave Severin were present, along with Peter Breen, attorney for the Thomas More Society. Breen worked on a lawsuit over Governor Pritzker’s ban on religious services with more than 10 people, which Pritzker and health leaders say was part of the effort to halt the spread of the coronavirus.
During the meeting, Breen questioned why church services were restricted while manufacturing facilities and stores like Costco were allowed to remain open. Both manufacturing facilities and stores that sell groceries were considered essential businesses under the stay-at-home order.
Bryant acknowledged the recent Jackson county outbreak that was connected to a church that had defied orders and held services.
“There's some confusion about what was done at that service or not one of the individuals from that services a very close neighbor of mine. So I know his heart was in the right place. But clearly, if you don't follow the guidelines, you're running the risk of getting your friends and neighbors ill,” Bryant said.
Breen responded to Bryant’s remarks.
“One of the problems here was because we didn't feel like there was a collaborative relationship between the government respect by the government for religious leaders, that there wasn't necessarily the feeling of authority,” Breen said. “If religious leaders want to open up, they weren't necessarily following the guidelines, because they didn't have any respect for the government because they'd seen there was no respect in this mutual way.”
Breen said he has seen little evidence of outbreaks caused by church services.
At the end of May, as the lawsuit filed by the Thomas More Society was working its way through the courts, Pritzker lifted the restrictions on worship services. The state continues to offer guidance on how to safely hold religious gatherings, but they are voluntary suggestions and churches are not required to comply.
Multiple outbreaks of COVID-19 have been connected to attendance at religious services, including events in South Korea, Washington, and Arkansas.