All religious services will now be defined as “essential” under a bill expected to be signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R).
On Friday, the governor’s office announced that Senate Bill 254 had been delivered to DeSantis. The bill was passed by the state Senate in January.
The bill’s text reads, “An emergency order issued under this part may not prohibit any religious services or activities.”
“However, in the case of a general provision in an emergency order that is applicable to all organizations in the affected area, it may be applied to a religious institution if the restriction is in furtherance of a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive way to achieve that goal.”
The sponsor of the bill, state Sen. Jason Brodeur (R), has warned that it will prevent future church closures during a state of emergency, such as the COVID-19 outbreak.
“It would basically state that if Publix is open, your place of worship is as well,” Brodeur added. “What it does not intend to do is what has been done in some other states, where synagogues, churches, and mosques have been singled out for congregated activities.”
During the pandemic, some states compelled churches to cease offering religious services. In April 2020, DeSantis issued an executive order allowing religious services to continue.
The order was issued following the arrest of a Brandon, Florida, pastor who had held services in violation of a Hillsborough County public ordinance, according to reports by Florida Politics.
“State Attorney Andrew Warren and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister on Monday issued a warrant for the arrest of Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne’s after he led a Sunday morning church service with 300-500 participants despite ‘educational’ outreach that the Sheriff’s office provided urging him not to do so and warning that such a gathering would go against the county’s safer at home order,” the news outlet reported.
After signing the executive order, DeSantis clarified his views on religious establishments.
“I don’t believe the government has the power to shut down a church,” DeSantis added. “And I’m not going to do that.”
The Arizona governor, Doug Ducey (R), also signed a similar bill in April, calling for the preservation of all religious services during state crises.
It was a major issue throughout the country, with conflicts over church closures during the pandemic. The Supreme Court of California ruled in February 2021 that Newsom’s decision to ban indoor church services was unconstitutional (D).
“Since COVID–19, California has imposed stricter requirements on religious organizations than on many businesses.” In a decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “California is concerned that religion causes people to spend too much time together. However, no one is prohibited from hanging around shopping malls, salons, or bus stations in California. ”