An Illinois judge just told a pastor — another one of those wannabe Christian martyrs — that he couldn’t have dozens upon dozens of people gather inside his church. The way he did it was even better.
The case involved Pastor Stephen Cassell (below) of the Beloved Church in the city of Lena. Cassell draws about 80 members each week, but after the pandemic hit, Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued a stay-at-home order, which has since been extended. More recently, Pritzker said people could leave their homes for “essential activities” like grocery shopping… but churches weren’t on that list. Presumably to avoid legal issues, he quickly amended his order to include them, as long as members respected social distancing inside and as long as attendance was capped at 10 people.
That’s when Cassell sued. He said the restrictions were “a violation of the Church’s existence as a Christian congregation.” If Walmart is allowed to have more than 10 people inside, why not his church too?
Here’s where it gets downright entertaining.
Judge John Z. Lee ultimately sided with the state — which is good — but he also shut down all those arguments we hear from Christian pastors who think meeting inside a church should be permitted despite the virus.
Look at how Lee dismisses the comparison between churches and major retailers:
When people buy groceries, for example, they typically “enter a building quickly, do not engage directly with others except at points of sale, and leave once the task is complete”… The purpose of shopping is not to gather with others or engage them in conversation and fellowship, but to purchase necessary items and then leave as soon as possible.
By comparison, religious services involve sustained interactions between many people. During Sunday services, for example, Cassell encourages members of his congregation to “converse” and “build fellowship and morale.” Indeed, Plaintiffs view “informal conversations and fellowship” as “essential parts of a functioning Christian congregation”… Given that religious gatherings seek to promote conversation and fellowship, they “endanger” the government’s interest in fighting COVID-19 to a “greater degree” than the secular businesses Plaintiffs identify.
Lee went on to say that churches are more like schools. Both are under the same rules, so churches aren’t being discriminated against. In fact, Lee said, Beloved Church is physically more like a movie theater, and those aren’t allowed to be open at all. So calm down.
This reinforces the conclusion that the Order is not meant to single out religious people or communities of faith for adverse treatment.
But perhaps the best part of the ruling is the way Lee dismisses the notion that churches have to gather in person by pointing to the Plaintiff’s own holy book:
… given the continuing threat posed by COVID-19, the [governor’s] 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.”
For once, it’s nice to see a Bible verse in a judge’s ruling. If Cassell cares so much about practicing his faith, then he can rest assured that the Bible doesn’t care if congregations can’t gather in a small crowded space. Facebook or YouTube streaming will do just fine.