Churches are facing a tough time as the public seeks a scapegoat to blame amidst the global pandemic.
Many are facing stiff fines, and some even violence and vandalism, as they reopen in the wake of lockdown.
But when Chicago cracked down on three local churches for opening up one businessman took action.
Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church, Philadelphia Romanian Church of God, and Metro Praise International Church are all in the Chicago area.
These three churches were excited to start in-person worship services after the Illinois lockdown was lifted, and they took full advantage of statewide reopenings to invite their congregants back.
But their joy was quickly squashed as the Chicago police fined each church $500 for violating a statewide order limiting in-person gatherings to 10 people.
All three churches knew the order was in place, and they had developed ways to work around it. Each congregation had already proven that they could safely worship in person while still following appropriate social distancing guidelines.
Despite their efforts, Chicago’s Mayor Lori Lightfoot asserted that the churches were in violation of the order and issued the hefty fines. The Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker, approved the action.
But a Good Samaritan stepped up to help the three churches, offering to pay the fines himself.
Willie Wilson is a prominent Chicago businessman and a former (2015 and 2019) mayoral candidate. He also firmly believes in the right of churches to assemble during these uncertain times and wasn’t afraid to call out government officials for their discrimination.
“Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker continue to intimidate the Church,” Wilson asserted. “This level of religious intimidation is unacceptable, outrageous, and in direct contravention of the Constitution, and must be met with a strong federal response.”
“The first right guaranteed by the Constitution is free exercise of religion. The Governor and Mayor continue to trample on our constitutional right while hiding behind a Stay at Home Order that treats the church as non-essential.”
Wilson attends Philadelphia Romanian Church of God on occasion and was thankful when the congregation resumed in-person services.
However, he had strong words for the governor and mayor when it came to the church as an “essential” part of society.
“It is shameful that the church is discriminated against, while liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries and Home Depot [are] treated as essential businesses. Governor Pritzker’s order violates the moral law of the universe, which is the highest law.”
Wilson has been outspoken about the pandemic and the Church’s role in the solution since lockdowns started.
He’s held several events around Chicago, distributing over 5 million protective masks to officials and residents alike.
He also stepped up—alongside many of Chicago’s religious leaders—to call for looser restrictions on houses of worship as the lockdown lifts.
Wilson applauded all the Chicago churches that “dared to worship” in past weeks and called for an examination of restrictions in order to reevaluate the importance of churches.
“All around us, in Wisconsin, and Kentucky, Stay Home orders are being found unconstitutional because they go too far,” Wilson reminded his community.
“Governor Pritzker’s unequal and unfair application of the law as it relates to the church is unconstitutional and must be challenged.”
“I am proud to stand up for Jesus Christ and pay these fines against a government that is using COVID-19 to shred the Constitution,” Wilson added.
In addition to paying the current fines, Wilson stated that he will pay the fines for any other church that decides to hold services going forward.
“I’m offering to pay fines up to $1 million for any church that is fined or has to go to court,” the businessman said. “To fight this evil disease, I will pledge up to $1 million.”
Attorney Richard Boykin, who is involved in the Chicago churches’ fight to reopen, applauded Wilson’s offer and expressed confidence that the fines wouldn’t stick after closer examination.
“I am confident that the court will actually throw these citations out, they will throw these fines out,” Boykin said. “The reason why they will do it [is] because the First Amendment gives churches the right to freedom of worship and assembly.”
Pritzker and Lightfoot continue to maintain that strict social distancing guidelines are necessary for safe reopenings, but Wilson’s call for looser restrictions on churches may still have its intended effect in the courts.
Pray that Chicago’s leaders will see the “essential” nature of public worship, and pray for churches across the country as they reopen amid uncertainty and opposition.
Let’s follow Willie Wilson’s example and help out our brothers and sisters in Christ in any way we can!