After the governor of Illinois issued an executive order banning gatherings greater than 50 people due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, the Illinois Republican Party sued. The state GOP alleged that the order’s carve out for religious services violated the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment because it privileged religious services over other types of speech, including political speech. The appellate panel disagreed, finding that the order did not violate the Free Exercise Clause because it was clear that speech that accompanies religious exercise had a privileged position under the First Amendment and that the executive order permissibly accommodated religious activities.
In response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, Governor J. B. Pritzker of Illinois has issued a series of executive orders designed to limit the virus’ opportunities to spread. The Illinois Republican Party and some of its affiliates believe that one executive order issued by Pritzker, a ban on gatherings of groups larger than 50, violated the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment because it contained a carve-out for the free exercise of religion, which allowed religious organizations to gather in groups of larger than 50 individuals.
The plaintiffs sought a permanent injunction against EO 43, assuming that such an injunction would permit them to gather in groups larger than 50, rather than reinstate the stricter ban for religion that some of the Governor’s earlier executive orders included. The district court denied the plaintiffs’ request for an injunction, and the plaintiffs appealed.
The appellate panel began by stating that the argument of the plaintiffs was essentially that religious groups were privileged over other groups in terms of limits on gatherings and that the only difference between the religious groups and others was the content of their speech. The panel found that, based on the Supreme Court’s Religion Clause cases, it was clear that speech that accompanies religious exercise has a privileged position under the First Amendment, and that EO43 permissibly accommodates religious activities. Continue reading ›