Pennsylvania lawmakers introduce bill to exempt religious exercise from public health emergency orders
In recent weeks, we have heard from courts across the country – including the U.S. Supreme Court – on whether state and local restrictions on worship service gatherings designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus are unconstitutional under the First Amendment.
In Pennsylvania, two state lawmakers have addressed the issue by proposing legislation that would bar the state from issuing such restrictions, even in cases of emergencies – including public health emergencies.
House Bill 2530 would amend the state’s Religious Freedom Protection Act (which is similar to a RFRA law) by adding a provision barring the governor from infringing on “the right to assemble to worship according to a person’s faith” through any public health order.
The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports:
State Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Westmoreland, said religious leaders have been confused about whether churches are affected by state-mandated coronavirus shutdowns.
“Our religious community is very confused. They don’t want to violate a law, but they’re also extremely frustrated,” he said.
The Rev. Steve Banes, pastor of New Stanton Church, praised Nelson’s bill as a way to prevent state interference in the church, but he believes his church and many others would have shut their doors regardless.
“I understand why the governor initially asked churches not to meet, but I think he was a little bit strong in his ask,” he said. “I think many churches would still comply with a governor’s ask to not meet, because we want to do the responsible thing.”
For more on this issue generally, see the Faith Freedom in a Pandemic resource page maintained by BJC. It includes links to opinion pieces, podcasts, posts and more.