Nothing demonstrated the twisted priorities our modern culture has like the manner in which governors treated houses of worship amid the initial days of the pandemic.
While big-box stores, liquor stores, and even marijuana dispensaries were regarded as “essential” to society, the physical locations where believers gather in fellowship to pray and worship were regarded as simply not necessary.
This was a grievous error, not just morally and spiritually, but constitutionally as well.
The Supreme Court has since made this very clear to states like California which it has ruled unfairly discriminated against houses of worship by treated them as less important than businesses that supply food and supplies (and addictive substances, as the case may be).
While New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu was one governor who shut down religious gathering places last year, he appears to have repented of such an approach.
On Tuesday, the Republican governor signed H.B. 542 which prohibits local or state governments from closing houses of worship and “allows such religious organizations to operate to the same degree as essential businesses during a state of emergency.”
“Nothing in this section shall prohibit the state government from requiring religious organizations to comply with neutral health, safety, or occupancy requirements issued by the state or federal government that are applicable to all organizations and businesses that provide essential services,” the legislation reads.
The bill, also known as the “Religious Liberties Act,” which is set to take effect in 60 days, was supported largely along party lines in the state legislature. Republicans largely supported its passage, while Democrats mostly opposed it, as The Washington Examiner reported.
Sununu’s own stay-at-home order last year did not allow churches to host gatherings but did allow “essential” business like grocery, liquor, and handwear stores to operate.
During a hearing on the bill, Republican state Sen. Sharon Carson said that churches are just as “essential” as these businesses, however.
“If Home Depot was considered to be an essential service, I think a church, and someone’s ability to go to worship, should also be an essential service,” the lawmaker stated.
Although opponents of the bill argue that this will inhibit the state’s ability to restrict large gatherings amid a pandemic, the underlying issue is whether churches are, indeed, as essential as retailers.
And for establishing that they certainly are, this bill is a decided victory not only for religious freedom but for our society as a whole.
“Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment. While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating houses of worship and religious organizations worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms,” attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, Greg Chafuen, said in a statement.
It is indeed time that the importance of corporate worship to millions of faithful Americans receives its proper legal recognition and we certainly hope many states will follow suit where they have not done so already.
New Hampshire’s law takes effect in 60 days.
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