Fact check: Are churches in Illinois closed for a year?

The claim: The governor of Illinois ordered churches closed for one year

As governors make plans for reopening businesses and allowing gatherings with social distancing guidelines in place, claims have surfaced that churches in Illinois will be closed for a year.

An article posted by the Geller Report carries the headline “Illinois: Democrat Governor Closes Churches For a Year” and claims churches will not open until phase five of Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s five-phase plan, which could last up to a year.

Under the Geller Report headline is a story, originally published by the Washington Examiner, that reports the state will enter phase three of the plan May 29 at the earliest and will not enter phase five of the plan until a vaccine or highly effective drug is readily available.

The Washington Examiner story carries the headline "Illinois governor says churches may not reopen for a year or more because of coronavirus." The Geller Report headline states that possibility with certainty.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker says his plan to reopen Illinois "can and will be updated as research and science develop."

Illinois governor issues five-phase reopening plan

On May 5, Pritzker announced his approach to reopen the state but noted the initial plan “can and will be updated as research and science develop and as the potential for effective treatments or vaccines is realized.”

The first phase of the plan includes reducing the rate of infection and implementing strict stay-at-home orders. Phase two allows the opening of nonessential retail stores for curbside pickup and delivery, and Illinoisans are directed to wear a face covering when leaving the home.

Phase three allows for gatherings of up to 10 people if the number of patients needing ICU beds decreases, and phase four allows for gatherings up to 50 people If the rate of infection and the number of patients admitted to a hospital continues to decline.

Phase five says the economy can fully reopen with safety precautions if a vaccine or highly effective treatment is widely available. If there is a treatment, Pritzker said, he will allow for festivals, large events, schools and places of recreation to be open.

Churches file suit and hold services

The Beloved Church of Lena in Stephenson County defied Pritzker’s stay-at-home order by holding services May 3, days after it filed a lawsuit against the governor’s executive actions regarding COVID-19, according to Newsweek. The suit claims Pritzker's orders were discriminatory toward those practicing religion.

The article says that on the same day the lawsuit was filed, Pritzker modified his stay-at-home order to allow religious practices as an essential activity.

The Chicago Sun-times reported that the Democratic governor issued an extended stay-at-home order that allows religious gatherings limited to 10 people who must wear face coverings and maintain social distance. The order encourages residents to use online or drive-in services.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the five-phase reopening plan “largely relies on residents to police themselves” and that Pritzker opened the possibility that the reopening plan could be subject to modifications.

 “I am not afraid to redesign the playbook if the rules change,” Pritzker said.  

Our rating: False headline

We rate the claim that Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker has closed churches for a year as a story with a FALSE HEADLINE. Though the governor said it could be up to a year before the state can enter phase five of the reopening plan, in which gatherings of 50 people or more can be held, the plan largely depends on when a vaccine and an effective treatment becomes available. Pritzker noted that the plan is subject to change; therefore, it is not guaranteed that churches will remain closed for a year. The governor  revised his stay-at-home order to allow for small worship services attended by 10 people or less with safety precautions in place. The article mentions this, but the headline is misleading.

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