Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church v. Pritzker, No. 20-1811 (7th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
In March 2020, Illinois Governor Pritzker issued an executive order to reduce transmission of the coronavirus that, among other things, capped at 10 the number of people who could attend religious gatherings. A list of “essential” functions exempt from the 10-person cap included organizations providing food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life. Other gatherings, such as concerts, are forbidden, regardless of size.
The plaintiffs sued under 42 U.S.C. 1983, arguing that the limit effectively foreclosed in-person religious services, even though they were free to hold multiple 10-person services, and that alternatives—online services or services in parking lots while worshipers remain in cars—are inadequate. Before the case was argued, the Governor issued a new order, which permits the resumption of all religious services, with the 10-person cap as a “recommendation.”
The Seventh Circuit found that the issue was not moot but declined to grant relief. Illinois has not discriminated against religion and has not violated the First Amendment. While warehouse workers and people who assist the needy may be at the same risk as people who gather for large religious worship, movies and concerts are a better comparison group. By that standard, any discrimination has been in favor of religion. While all theaters and concert halls in Illinois have been closed since mid-March, sanctuaries and houses of worship were open, though to smaller gatherings.