States are working to protect religious organizations from discriminatory treatment and codify into law that religion is essential – even during a state of emergency. The proposed legislation would keep churches from being unfairly targeted with restrictions heavier than those placed on businesses.
They’re following in the footsteps of Arkansas, whose governor signed legislation to protect churches on February 10. Here’s a roundup of measures in six states – Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska and South Carolina – with “Religion is Essential Bills,” along with information about how you can get involved.
Arizona: The Daily Citizen contacted Cathi Herrod, President of the Center for Arizona Policy, a Focus on the Family-affiliated group. She told us that the “Religion is Essential Act,” HB 2648, “ensures religious organizations can continue operating and engage in religious services during a state of emergency.”
Herrod said that while Arizona’s current governor, Doug Ducey, “has recognized and protected the First Amendment rights of religious organizations,” the bill “ensures those rights are protected by future governors and legislators by putting the protections into law.”
“Religious organizations provide essential services that are vital to the health and welfare of the public. Not only in meeting the spiritual needs of our populace, but also supporting social services, health care, and economic activity. HB 2648 covers all religious institutions and organizations, include religious food banks, visiting the sick, and other ministry work,” Herrod added.
The Secular Coalition for Arizona, with a little more than 4,000 people following on Facebook, opposes the legislation. When the group gave a call to action, it labeled church gatherings “superspreader events,” and hundreds of secularists registered opposition to the measure. Despite this, the bill passed out of the House Judiciary Committee on a 7-3 vote.
Indiana: Senate Bill 263 describes religious activities as “essential services” and would ensure equal protections for churches in public emergencies. The legislation is supported by the Indiana Family Institute, a Focus-affiliated Family Policy Council (FPC).
Kentucky: The legislature is considering House Bill 218, “The Church is Essential Act.” A special edition of The Kentucky Citizen, published by The Family Foundation, says, “Given the ups and downs of this past ‘Covid Year,’ this legislation ensures that churches and other religious organizations receive equal treatment during a public crisis, allowing them to remain open on the same terms as other businesses and services that are deemed essential. It further protects religious organizations against government discrimination based upon the organizations’ religious identity or activities.”
The bill has good prospects of passing, The Family Foundation reported, especially “given the numerous mistakes made during this year’s Covid crisis and the many churches in Kentucky.” Also a Focus-affiliated FPC, the organization has information about how concerned Kentuckians can contact legislators.
Montana: SB 172, the “Religion is Essential Act,” is supported by the state’s FPC, the Montana Family Foundation. The organization’s legislation tracker shows their support for the measure, as well as SB 172’s status. On February 12, the bill was passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on a vote of 10-1. Montana Family Foundation has guidance on how to participate in the state’s legislature.
Nebraska: The state’s FPC, Nebraska Family Alliance, supports LB 167, which would protect religious services during a state of emergency. They argue, “When the government treats churches worse than casinos, gyms, and abortion clinics, the Constitution is violated. LB 167 ensures churches and religious organizations cannot be treated worse than secular organizations and bars government officials from prohibiting religious organizations from operating during a state of emergency.”
Nebraska Family Alliance is tracking this bill and other pro-family, pro-freedom and pro-life legislation in the state. “LB 167 has a hearing scheduled on February 26, and constituents can submit written comments about the legislation ahead of time.
South Carolina: H 3105 was introduced into the state legislature and has been referred to the House Committee on Judiciary.
H 3105 amends the “South Carolina Religious Freedom Act,” providing that “religious services are deemed an essential service during a state of emergency and must be allowed to continue operating throughout the state of emergency.”
Palmetto Family Council, the state’s FPC, provides resources, news and information for those who want to support religious freedom in the state.
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