Romanian Churches Await SCOTUS Response

Mar 10, 2021

Liberty Counsel filed the reply to the petition for cert asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church and Logos Baptist Ministries in their federal lawsuit against Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker for his unconstitutional executive orders discriminating against these churches by restricting in-person worship services to no more than 10 people. 

Under the governor’s order, churches can have an unlimited number of people for nonreligious activities to feed, shelter, and provide social services, which includes unemployment or disability counseling. However, religious gatherings, in the same church with the same people, was limited to 10. 

This is the first case to reach the Supreme Court ready for a full hearing and not merely an emergency ruling. Even after the Supreme Court’s clear rulings in favor of places of worship, some lower federal and state courts continue to ignore the High Court. 

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals denied the preliminary injunction, although the court admitted that some of the nonreligious activities permitted outside the church present higher risks than worship. Incredibly, the court wrote that churches can “feed the soul” in other ways than worship.

Last month, the High Court ruled in favor of a group of northern California churches and told Santa Clara County that it cannot enforce a ban on indoor religious worship services put in place by public health officials. Gateway City Church, et al v. Newsom, Gov of CA, et al was filed by churches challenging the enforcement of a county order barring indoor worship services. The Supreme Court chastised the Ninth Circuit for failing to follow its ruling in South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom, which granted the requests by southern California churches to resume indoor worship services on February 6, 2021. 

Santa Clara County initially urged the Justices to leave the county’s total ban on indoor worship services in place, even though the Supreme Court ruled on February 6, 2021 in the South Bay and Harvest Rock Church cases that the state’s total ban violated the First Amendment. They granted the churches’ request to end the county’s total worship ban and said the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals failure to issue the injunction was “clearly erroneous.” 

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court also granted an emergency petition for an injunction pending appeal on behalf of New York City synagogues and Roman Catholic churches in Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo and Agudath Israel v. Cuomo, lifting New York’s COVID-related limits on attendance at worship services. 

In the Reply Brief, Liberty Counsel argues that: (1) the High Court should take the case and issue a final order on the merits because some of the lower courts continue to not apply or misapply the Supreme Court’s orders; and (2) the case is not moot because Governor Pritzker continues to defend his unconstitutional 10-person restriction and this case, like the Supreme Court’s ruling in Gateway City Church on February 26, has a nominal damage claim. 

The Supreme Court is scheduled to conference this case on March 19. The following week the High Court is expected to release its decision whether to take the case. 

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The pastors and the Romanian churches are resolved to continue to fight for religious freedom. This case provides an excellent opportunity for the Supreme Court to step in and stop this abuse of the First Amendment. It is time to stop the abuse once and for all.” 

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