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Church that challenged stay-at-home ruling and lost plans to appeal

The church is not done challenging the state’s 10-person cap on attendees of church services.

The Beloved Church of Lena, Illinois, saw its request for a temporary restraining order against Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s stay-at-home order denied Sunday.
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Leaders at an Evangelical church in Northwestern Illinois announced Monday they are appealing a federal court ruling that upheld Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s right to scale back in-person church services as part of his stay-at-home order to help prevent spread of the coronavirus.

The legal fracas began when leaders at the Beloved Church in Lena, located about 50 miles west of Rockford, filed a complaint Thursday seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction in order to resume worship services with its 80 congregants.

Pritzker’s stay-at-home order allows 10 people to attend a church service.

A U.S. district judge issued a ruling Sunday upholding Pritzker’s order as constitutional.

“Given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the [stay-at-home] Order preserves relatively robust avenues for praise, prayer and fellowship and passes constitutional muster,” Judge John Z. Lee wrote in a 37-page decision.

The lawsuit, filed by the Thomas More Society on behalf of The Beloved Church, had been the first significant legal challenge to Illinois’ stay-at-home order in federal court.

The church’s pastor, Stephen Cassell, has defied the order. Pritzker has said local law enforcement officials have the option to put people who disobey the order in jail.

“Governor Pritzker’s arbitrary 10-person limit applies only to churches but not to the many other businesses open in Illinois today, from liquor stores to lawyers to pet groomers,” Peter Breen an attorney Thomas More Society who’s representing the church said in a statement released Monday. “Our constitution requires that churches receive at least equal treatment as any secular enterprise. Pritzker’s latest threat of jail for people of faith is outrageous, and we will seek immediate relief from the court of appeals to defend our clients.”