Keep churches closed for now

Banners hang over windows outside the Elim Romanian Pentecostal Church on Sunday in Chicago. Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

The following editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on May 18:

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — A reader emailed us a question that people have been asking: Under Illinois’s shutdown order, why is it OK to go to the grocery store or Walmart but it’s not OK to go to church?

“Both are big buildings that have a lot of people in them. What’s the science behind this? Maybe if there was more reporting on the ‘why,’ folks would understand and perhaps follow the guidelines,” the reader wrote.

We’ll give it a shot: While we don’t have all the answers, we support Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s decision to hold off on church services for now. One reason? Lessons learned from the Mount Vernon, Wash., choir outbreak earlier this year where 53 choir members became sick and two died. One symptomatic person attended a rehearsal and likely sickened the rest.

A published Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report on the outbreak determined that the act of singing — vocal cords that push droplets into the air — caused the coronavirus to spread more than it would in other spaces, such as a grocery store. Unless there’s an outbreak of singing at your local supermarket. Which we doubt.

Some religious services also involve handshaking, breaking of bread, shared holy water, Bible school and preaching, all within the confines of a church — not all buildings are spacious — for an hour or longer. Even under social distancing rules and facial coverings, the closeness and traditions of a religious service can make it riskier than a trip to the store.

That’s the situation today. It doesn’t mean churches should remain closed in two weeks or two months. Cases of infection statewide and diligence on social distancing may well justify a slow reopening of religious services sooner. Cardinal Blase Cupich of the Chicago Archdiocese, for example, recently unveiled a phased approach to restarting Mass. The first step would allow for small gatherings for baptisms, funerals and weddings.

Rather than openly defy stay-home orders, Cupich worked with Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s office and health officials to establish guidelines. He also rightly emphasized to parishioners that restrictions due to public health should not be equated with restrictions on religious liberty.

Churches that hold services of any type in defiance of state and city orders could face fines, Mayor Lightfoot said Monday. But anything beyond that, which would divert city and police resources to punish violators, would be an overreach of government. Civil disobedience should not be met with an aggressive police response.

It’s understandable that faith-based citizens facing this pandemic feel particularly frustrated and vulnerable, separated from the very moorings that keep them steady and hopeful. But there are specific health reasons behind the limitations. They won’t last forever.

Visit the Chicago Tribune at Distributed by Tribune Content Agency. © 2020 Chicago Tribune.

Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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(10) comments


What is up with all the church concern? Are there people who feel church goers are so stupid they cant stay 6 feet from one another? And besides, it none of their business how we go about this. Shut the hll up and stay home if you want.

hermit thrush

this is a good resource:

From Camping To Dining Out: Here's How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities

indoor religious services are rated as high risk.


This COVID time should inspire the faithful to at least reassess, if not reinvent, religious practice.

For example, COVID time essentially eliminated services conducted by pastors and the use of churches. Do the faithful need pastors and churches in order to be faithful?


Hmmm, I guess they never heard of Freedom of Religion. A right guaranteed under the Constitution that outweighs any virus...


Holmes, you're like Mike. You don't get religious freedom or you refuse to get it. It's not acceptable that you don't get it or refuse to get it. It's called "willed ignorance," refusing to change one's mind or consider conflicting information based on a desire to maintain one's existing beliefs.

Nothing is more shameful than willed ignorance.

Holmes -- the real one

Pretty sure that the programmers for counterfeit "Holmes" reside in a location where "freedom of religion" is a foreign concept. That account operates on a provocation bot format.

Mike from Casar

I didn't forget why I stopped reading this rag so I stopped back in today just for another reminder.


What don't you get, Mike? Science or religious freedom or both?

Science: There's a global COVID-19 pandemic.

Religious freedom: No Constitutional rights, including religious freedom, are absolute, fixed and not in relation to other things. All Constitutional rights, including religious freedom, can be altered or redefined by state interests deemed sufficiently compelling, as in the case of a pandemic. The Constitution doesn't leave the states as mere onlookers forced to watch as pastors, rabbis, the faithful, etc., engage in dangerous acts. States are obliged to take reasonable means to protect the faithful, members of their communities at-large, and the public. Notice the "reasonableness" and lack of overreach of state mandates: the faithful can continue to pray, read scripture, sing hymns, engage in rituals, etc., in their homes and with groups of 10 or less (no one is saying don't practice your religion), and church services/rituals/sacraments can be conducted online, via drive-in, or via other means that don't involve congregating. Is freedom of religion truly denied by state mandates, today? No. Only congregating is denied.

keyser soze


hermit thrush

what is your objection to the piece?

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