Chicago officials are threatening to close, perhaps even destroy, a defiant church for holding in-person services larger than 10 people. According to the city’s public health department, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s executive order has the “force of law.”
Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady sent a letter to Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church Friday, warning the church to stop meeting. She mentions that she has the power to stop them from gathering by “whatever means are necessary.”
“As the Health Commissioner, I have the power and duty ‘to cause all nuisances affecting the health of the public to be abated with all reasonable promptness,’ and general police powers ‘to correct, by whatever means are necessary, any health hazard that presents an immediate risk to the life or health of one or more citizens of the City of Chicago.'”
Arwady further warned that the city could take legal measures if the church continued to “operate in defiance” of the governor’s stay-at-home order.
“If you continue to operate in defiance of the Executive Order, the City will pursue all available legal remedies. Any future gatherings conducted contrary to the Order will be considered a failure to abate. Therefore, the City will take steps necessary to abate, including Summary Abatement.”
The Illinois Supreme Court defines “Summary Abatement” as “to destroy without process.” Therefore, the health inspector could “effect a destruction of property at his discretion.”
Pastor Cristian Ionescu fired back after reading the commissioner’s letter. He found the city’s reference to the church being a “nuisance to public health” appalling.
“I resent the fact they say they care more about our people than ourselves,” Ionescu said of city officials. “We shut down the doors of this church before the governor issued his stay-at-home order [in March].”
He touts his church’s safety measures as “stricter than the CDC’s.” The church requires all attendees to have their temperatures checked at the front door and to sit six feet apart. The congregation also operates at 15% capacity.
Despite the city’s threats of closure and destruction, Ionescu said his church plans to continue meeting. He said the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment is the “law of the land.”
“Per the words they used in that letter, the maximum that they can escalate to is demolishing the church – without a court order, without due process,” he said. “So, I consider that an extreme threat. I’m not afraid of it. We’re gonna be peaceful. But we won’t stand down one bit.”