The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit refused Tuesday to block enforcement of the Illinois COVID-19 order capping the number of individuals attending a religious service at 10.
Two churches contended that Executive Order 2020-38 violates their rights under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, as applied to the states by the Fourteenth Amendment. The executive order limits church gatherings to 10 people.
The plaintiffs claimed that a limit of 10 people “effectively forecloses their in-person religious services.” They argued that the rules burden their free exercise of faith and discriminates against religious services, as compared with economic and charitable activities. They also argued that any limit on religious gatherings was only permissible if supported by a compelling interest, which they claimed was lacking.
The court noted that religious services were considered “essential,” which is why they were allowed to proceed. However, they were still subject to limitations. The Free Exercise Clause does not require a state to accommodate religious functions or exempt them from generally applicable laws.
The court noted that churches were allowed to hold multiple ten-person services every week, as well as use alternative methods, such as internet services or parking lot services.
The court stated that the vital question of the issue was whether the executive order discriminates against religion. The court found that it was neutral with respect to religion, and that the order applies the same rules to secular activities. This activity is different from activities that must be carried out in person, such as delivering food.
The court ultimately held that the executive order did not discriminate against religion, and therefore did not violate the First Amendment.
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