Torben Søndergaard, of The Last Reformation, held gatherings at Des Plaines’ historic Methodist Campground in Cook County until city leaders issued an emergency order this week to stop them, requiring masks and social distancing at any and all events, CBS 2 Chicago reported.
According to Alderman Andrew Goczkowski, the order puts “Des Plaines’ face covering and social distancing requirements a step ahead of Governor Pritzker’s executive order,” which limits public gatherings to 50 people and includes exemptions for religious groups, Patch.com reports.
“You can riot as much as you want with no social distancing, with no masks and no one stops you, but worshipping God is dangerous and suddenly you are spreading the virus,” Søndergaard told Fox News.
Police hand-delivered the order to Søndergaard on Wednesday, mandating that anyone traveling through the city must practice social distancing and wear a mask whether on private or public property.
Police Chief William Kushner told the Journal & Topics Thursday that each person attending the revival could be fined $750 if they are not wearing masks or practicing social distance, but Søndergaard said the order he received did not state a penalty for noncompliance.
“They’re really trying to shut us down. I feel like they’re using COVID-19 to intimidate us, otherwise, they could’ve had those guidelines in place weeks ago,” added the evangelist, who said he fled religious persecution in Denmark last year and is seeking political asylum in the United States, according to CBN News. “We’re waiting for police to deliver the ‘new’ set of rules.”
“It’s very, very difficult to plan anything when guidelines and rules just change,” Søndergaard said. “We see this kind of religious persecution because there are some people who don’t want us there.”
Organizers of the revival meetings said they got a tent permit and were following state and local orders, but after area residents expressed anger that attendees were not social distancing or wearing masks, the city reversed course.
“I think it’s dangerous because we are in the middle of a pandemic,” Des Plaines resident Tria Robinson told WGN-TV.
The majority of Illinois’ more than 179,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and at least 7,677 deaths are in Cook County, which is expected to announce new guidelines Friday, ABC 7 Chicago reports.
“Cook County and the city of Chicago both have a serious problem,” Gov. JB Pritzker said. “I mean, look, every region has increasing positivity rates and increasing cases. This is hugely problematic. It’s not something we wanted to see happen, but it means we’re going to have to take a hard look at what we need to do, what mitigations we need now in order to get us back in line in the direction where we were going, which was reducing those positivity rates.”
Prior to the city council’s meeting, Colt Moylan, 2nd Ward Alderman, wrote in a statement that the city “did not approve of this event” but “had no choice but to issue a tent permit,” adding “the governor exempted religious groups from his order … the group is peaceful so far … is largely contained to the campground in tents, campers, and RVs …We will issue tickets after the fact if warranted.”
Søndergaard wrote online that he sent a letter to President Trump to “ask for his help.”
“I’m asking all Americans to pray now for a supernatural intervening to stop this socialist agenda before we become like China, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela or Iran,” he added.
But the evangelist remains optimistic.
“We had a really good meeting yesterday. It was full…Ten people were baptized,” he said. “People come to faith. People meet God. A lot of things are happening.”
Søndergaard will be at the campground through Sunday before his next stop in New Hampshire, from Aug. 14 to Aug. 23.