Communist Christmas in Chicago

Dec 25, 2020

In terms of religious liberty, Christmas 2020 in Chicago is looking a lot like Romania did under communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu back in the 1980s. Under the communist regime, caroling and holiday gatherings were banned, and the government arrested pastors and seized many churches.

When they fled Romania for America, the immigrant members of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church of Chicago never dreamed their faith would once again be under attack, this time by the very officials who were supposed to UPHOLD their constitutional right to religious freedom.

What happens when an American city threatens to seize and destroy an immigrant church simply for opening its doors? Read on to learn the outrageous lengths a midwestern governor and mayor took to try to punish our client’s church. -Mat

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Pastor Cristian Ionescu knows exactly what it is like to be persecuted for his faith. He grew up in Communist Romania where Christians were financially oppressed, their property seized, frequently beaten and/or jailed... or even worse for sharing a Bible or preaching the Gospel.

Pastor Cristian Ionescu never dreamed he would face similar persecution in America.

Pastor Ionescu is the head pastor of Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church of Chicago, IL. Like many of Elim’s parishioners, he emigrated to America after escaping Romania’s brutal communist regime. And Pastor Ionescu says the playbook the Romanian Communist government used against him and his people is the same playbook now being used by radical governors and mayors in America.

Radical socialists, wherever they are, always go after the church first…and then begin taking concrete, orchestrated steps to control the country’s future.

+  +  First, they scare you into compliance.

When the COVID crisis began, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church willingly closed, out of an abundance of caution for its parishioners, as well as respecting the “two weeks to flatten the curve” mantra.

But when IL Gov. J.B. Pritzker began allowing big box retailers, abortion clinics and recreational marijuana stores to open while churches were still heavily restricted to just 10 people no matter the sanctuary size, the largely Romanian immigrant population of Elim Pentecostal grew uneasy.

When Pritzker later announced that churches could be allowed to increase attendance to 50 people at some time in the future, but only after a mandatory vaccine was released in 12-18 months, Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church said NO MORE!

The church was sanitized top to bottom by a professional cleaning company. Masks, face shields, gloves and sanitizer were bought in bulk. Sanctuary seats were taped off so that no one could sit closer than six feet apart. In fact, the church went above and beyond the safety measures used by the “essential services” Pritzker had allowed open.

But instead of commending Elim’s safe and sanitary example, Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot decided to attack the church.

+  +  Then they try to incite hate against you

In the early hours of the morning before Elim Pentecostal Church was to re-open, Mayor Lightfoot had every neighbor’s car legally parked curbside towed for nine blocks around the church. Those whose cars had been towed received an impoundment letter informing the owner that their car had been towed because the church refused to close.

But instead of generating hate against the church, neighbors stopped by with encouragement and even donations to keep the church going!

The church does not use street parking. So, before the evening service, Mayor Lightfoot sent three marked police cars to block every entrance to Elim’s private parking lot. No matter, the parishioners simply parked farther away and walked to the church.

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+  +  Then they threaten your freedom.

When it became clear the people of Elim would not be easily frightened, Mayor Lightfoot then charged Pastor Ionescu with two Disorderly Conduct charges, as if this humble pastor were some thug in a bar brawl. But Pastor Cristian’s only “crime” was opening his church with more than 10 people. The church refused to close.

+  +  Then they try to talk you into joining their side.

After threatening Pastor Ionescu’s freedom, Mayor Lightfoot demanded a “meeting” with the pastor. Pastor Ionescu told the mayor’s office he would attend ONLY if his Liberty Counsel attorney were present on the call. The mayor promptly cancelled the meeting. She intended to convince him to close. She was not interested in a dialogue.

+  +  Then they take your property.

Foiled again in her attempts to enforce Gov. Pritzker’s illegal and unconstitutional church restrictions, Mayor Lightfoot doubled down. The church received an official notice from the Chicago Health Department declaring Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church to be a “nuisance,” and as such the city threatened “Summary Abatement” – a process whereby the city could immediately and without notice SEIZE AND DESTROY ALL CHURCH PROPERTY.

Think about that a moment – a group of peaceful Christians worshipping the Lord within the confines of their own perfectly sanitized and structurally sound building were deemed a nuisance -- for which the city was threatening to bulldoze their church!

In all my years as an attorney, I have never heard of a city trying to destroy a church, for ANY reason, let alone simply for opening.

Pastor Ionescu says growing up in Romania was like growing up inside a tightening noose. The restrictions of freedom became worse and worse over time. And this pastor, who has witnessed the worst of communist persecution, sees the same noose tightening here in America.

In Romania, the Communists put the whole society in a mode of fear to encourage compliance. People would accept nearly any tyranny just to survive. Those who refused to comply were deemed a nuisance and targeted for additional “pressure.”

If the pressure did not work, they would try to recruit you to their side, offering special meetings with high-ranking government officials saying, “just work with us and it will all be fine.”

And if the “nuisance” still refused to cooperate, their livelihoods were ruined, and their property taken by the state.

And if all that didn’t do the trick, the Communists would simply eliminate the non-compliant. Permanently.

In Romania, Pastor Ionescu and many of his parishioners didn’t just see this kind of oppression of the church, they LIVED it. And now, all these years later and here in what is supposed to be a free land, with free people, and a government constitutionally barred from impinging on people’s religious rights – Pastor Ionescu was facing radical pressure again.

Our case representing Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church against Gov. Pritzker is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. It is the first church closure case ready for full review by the High Court. And we still have our cases for churches in Maine, Virginia, Kentucky, and California ongoing. This will be a long fight, but we are absolutely committed to fighting it to ensure America’s religious freedom remains FREE.

Our legal services are always free thanks to the generosity of supporters like YOU. Our Year-End Challenge Grant will DOUBLE the impact of your donation. Every gift will be DOUBLED through December 31, midnight in your time zone. Please, take this opportunity to fight for religious freedom TODAY!

Thank you in advance for your generosity and patriotism!

Mat Staver
Founder and Chairman

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