Elgin church won't reopen Sunday, threatens suit over COVID-19 shutdown

  • The Rev. Keith Gomez, center, honors law enforcement personnel in August 2015 at Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin.

    The Rev. Keith Gomez, center, honors law enforcement personnel in August 2015 at Northwest Bible Baptist Church in Elgin. Courtesy of Northwest Bible Baptist Church

 
 
Updated 5/16/2020 10:04 PM

The Northwest Bible Baptist Church near Elgin announced it will not hold services on Sunday after receiving a letter Friday afternoon from the Kane County state's attorney's office that it would enforce Gov. J.B. Pritzker's executive orders to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The church, which was told to close its school shortly after the stay-open orders went into effect in mid-March, also threatened legal action in a strongly worded social media post that promised "victory."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"Their willingness to enforce Governor Pritzker's illegal mandate against the local church is mind-blowing, and it is obvious that that forces against the church have eclipsed the gravity of this pandemic," read part of a Facebook post by Pastor Keith Gomez.

"While we are ready and willing to engage in this battle, we have been counseled and believe it will be most prudent to temporarily postpone our reopening to achieve a greater long-term victory," the post continued. "All along, we have said that we want to win this war to protect our religious liberty, to establish a precedent so that these legal actions will never be taken against our church again."

Attempts to reach Gomez for additional comment or elaboration on Saturday were not immediately successful.

Jeremy Dys, an attorney for the First Liberty Institute, which represents the church, called McMahon's letter "extremely disappointing" and said church leaders have been pleading since May 1 to start a dialogue with state and local leaders but have received no response.

In a letter provided by Dys, McMahon's office on Friday cited two cases in which courts upheld Pritzker's orders that affect religious gatherings and that online or drive-up services would suffice during the pandemic.

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McMahon said the church has taken "laudable steps" toward safety, but the social distancing mandate takes precedence. "If a conflict occurs, this office is prepared to carry out its statuatory duties and move to enforce compliance with the executive order," McMahon's letter concluded.

The dispute comes at a time where local and state authorities across the country are struggling to find common ground on reopening businesses, relaxing restrictions and restarting the nation's economy.

Kane County Sheriff Ron Hain said on Thursday his deputies would need an order signed by a local judge before they enforce Pritzker's orders and the Kendall County Sheriff's Department also said it would not break up group gatherings or target small businesses for social distancing violations.

Gomez's social media post, made on the churches' Facebook page, also said it has "legal representation" and will take "recommended action" on Monday.

"We understand the spiritual needs of our community and the spiritual needs of our church people, and we wholeheartedly long for the day to meet all of those needs. That day is coming soon, regardless of the government's approval," Gomez wrote.

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