Monday, May 04, 2020

Court Rejects Challenge To Illinois 10-Person Limit On Religious Services

In Cassell v. Snyders, (ND IL, May 3, 2020), an Illinois federal district court upheld against constitutional attack Illinois Governor J.R. Pritzker's COVID-19 Order which, as amended after the filing of this lawsuit, allows religious worship services of up to ten people if they comply with social distancing precautions. In denying plaintiffs injunctive relief, the court said in part:
The Court is mindful that the religious activities permitted by the April 30 Order are imperfect substitutes for an in-person service where all eighty members of Beloved Church can stand together, side-by-side, to sing, pray, and engage in communal fellowship. Still, given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the Order preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster. Until testing data signals that it is safe to engage more fully in exercising our spiritual beliefs (whatever they might be), Plaintiffs, as Christians, can take comfort in the promise of Matthew 18:20—“For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” ...
Ultimately, then, the Court concludes that the April Order qualifies as a neutral, generally applicable law. It therefore withstands First Amendment scrutiny so long as “it is supported by a rational basis.” ... Given the importance of slowing the spread of COVID-19 in Illinois, the Order satisfies that level of scrutiny, and Plaintiffs do not seriously argue otherwise. As a result, the Court finds that Plaintiffs’ Free Exercise claim is unlikely to succeed on the merits.
The court also rejected state RFRA and other state law challenges. WTTW News reports on the decision.