Two days after President Trump declared churches to be essential and that governors must allow them to re-open, the Chicago Public Health sent a letter to Elim Pentecostal Church and other churches in the city threatening them with closure and “summary abatement” if they don’t immediately cease defying state stay-at-home orders and stop having services.
Elim Pentecostal Church has been at the forefront of the debate in Illinois surrounding the churches’ right to have services amid the pandemic. Their recent re-opening has drawn the mayor’s ire and has resulted in them being targeted. So far police have given citations, fines, blocked off entrances to their parking lot, blanketed nine blocks around the church with no-parking signs in an attempt to get the church to stop gathering, and now are escalating with the threat of destruction to their property usually reserved for dilapidated builds and crack houses.
The letter sent by Chicago Public Health chides the church for failing to abide by the executive orders, reiterated their power to close a business or declare a place off-limits and declares, “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.”
“…Please be advised, any continued operation of 4850 N. Bernard Street in defiance of my directive and the Executive Order is hereby declared a public health nuisance. Pursuant to the Municipal Code of Chicago, I am authorized to seek to enjoin such nuisance or to cause the same to be summarily abated in such manner as I may direct pursuant to the applicable provisions of the Code.”
After ordering them to close immediately, the letter closes with, “Any future gatherings conducted contrary to the Order will be considered a failure to abate and the City will take steps necessary to abate, including Summary Abatement.“
According to the Illinois Supreme Court, “summary abatement” is defined as to “put down or destroy without process,” meaning the Health Inspector can use his own judgment and discretion to destroy the property if needed, in the name of public health, though the next step before that would likely be putting chains on the building doors or posting police outside the building to prevent entry.
The Romanian Pastors who received the letter, after previously being fined and given disorderly conduct citations, are defiant in the face of the threat of destruction.
“For me, the way the letter is written, it is a lot of gibberish,” Cristian Ionescu, Elim Romanian’s pastor said. “I have no idea what they plan to do next. But it doesn’t matter. I will not be discouraged and still plan to host services Sunday.”