Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is poised to sign Senate Bill 254, which protects religious services and activities during a state of emergency.
Specifically, the bill includes the following language:
“An emergency order authorized by this part may not directly or indirectly prohibit a religious institution from conducting regular religious services or activities. However, a general provision in an emergency order which applies uniformly to all entities in the affected jurisdiction may be applied to a religious institution if the provision is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The bill protects religious institutions from being shut down by way of emergency order.
While religious institutions were previously deemed non-essential in various states during the heart of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Florida governor issued an executive order in April 2020 which deemed such services essential. Shortly thereafter, he affirmed his support for religious institutions, stating, “I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church. I’m certainly not going to do that.”
As reported by Florida Politics in 2020, a pastor in Brandon, Florida, was arrested because he held services in violation of a Hillsborough County public ordinance. Other states also singled out religious institutions. Such was the case in California, where the governor previously banned indoor church services. However, in a February 2021 ruling, the Supreme Court lifted the ban.
According to the Los Angeles Times:
“Since the arrival of COVID–19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses.” wrote Justice Neil M. Gorsuch in one of three concurring opinions. “California worries that worship brings people together for too much time. Yet, California does not limit its citizens to running in and out of other establishments; no one is barred from lingering in shopping malls, salons, or bus terminals.”
Pursuant to Senate Bill 254, while an emergency order may not prohibit religious services or activities (i.e., they cannot be specifically targeted), religious institutions can possibly be shut down by way of emergency order if the order contains a general provision that uniformly applies to “all entities in the affected jurisdiction,” and if the provision furthers a compelling governmental interest using the least restrictive means possible.
Republican state Senator Jason Brodeur, who sponsored the bill, stated, “It applies to all emergency orders that would come in. It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship. What it doesn’t seek to do is what we’ve seen in some of the other states, where churches, synagogues and mosques were singled out for congregated activities.”
Mr. Hakim is an attorney and columnist. His articles have been published in The Washington Examiner, The Daily Caller, The Federalist, American Thinker, and other online publications. He is also a regular guest on OANN’s Tipping Point, and has appeared on Newsmax, The Dave Weinbaum Show, and Real America’s Voice.