Leaders of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod wrote a letter to Attorney General William Barr, asking that he stop Illinois Governor Jay Robert Pritzker’s plan to limit public gatherings to only 50 people until a vaccine is developed, saying it will threaten the existence of some of the 500 congregations and 115 schools in the state.
Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, published a letter the church sent to Barr, explaining in the church’s view, the Illinois plan to open, that will limit public gatherings to 50 people until a vaccine is developed, is a violation of the First Amendment.
“We write briefly to call your attention to the ‘Restore Illinois’ plan of the honorable Governor J. B. Pritzker,” Harrison wrote in the letter. “Several aspects of the plan, however, appear unreasonable. Worse, they appear to us to fail the ‘least restrictive means’ test for government limitations on First Amendment rights in times of emergency.”
“I refer you to the attached ‘Lutheran Plea’ to Governor Pritzker, written by the three regional leaders of our church body in Illinois,” the letter continues. “‘Phase 4’ of the Illinois reopening plan allows an increase from 10 to 50 people in gatherings of various kinds, but appears to treat churches differently from other institutions with similar gatherings.”
“Furthermore, the limit of 50 people is in place until ‘Phase 5,’ when there is ‘a vaccine, or highly effective treatment widely available or the elimination of any new cases over a sustained period.'”
The local church leaders of Illinois explain that this would appear to violate the First Amendment, and will threaten the existence of many Illinois congregations:
This provision negatively affects our churches and schools and even threatens closure for some. It will threaten our mission to share the free forgiveness of sins in Christ with our own membership and with those in need of Christ’s love outside our fellowship. It will threaten our ability to provide parochial grade school and high school education, and our ability to provide consolation, comfort and hope to thousands upon thousands in Illinois. In short, it threatens the “free exercise” clause of the First Amendment and begs the “strict scrutiny” principle to be applied.
In conclusion, the letter notes that Lutherans are “conscience-bound to follow the directive of Christ, ‘Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s.’ But we shall also render ‘unto God what is God’s” (Matthew 22:21). ‘Caesar’ is claiming too much in this case.”
While many states and health professionals claim it is irresponsible to stop lockdowns until a vaccine is developed, most have noted a vaccine could take up to two years to be developed and safely implemented.