Religious services deemed essential in approved bill – The Advocate-Messenger

A House bill to prevent a government entity from banning religious services during an emergency to a greater extent than that imposed on other organizations or businesses that provide essential services has passed the Senate Wednesday.

Senator Robby Mills, R-Henderson, introduced House Bill 43 in the Senate, on behalf of the sponsor, Rep. Shane Baker, R-Somerset.

Mills pointed out that Governor Andy Beshear issued a series of executive orders in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“One of these orders banned all mass gatherings. It specified examples and included gatherings in faith-based organizations. But the order stipulated that certain gatherings were not prohibited. Like going to malls, offices, factories. And yes, even big box retail stores and grocery stores.

Mills said some businesses and gathering places qualified as essential, while others did not.

“The governor’s executive order closed churches, which many Kentuckians saw as an infringement of their constitutionally protected right and could not believe they were being prevented from gathering with their congregants.”

He said there are three reasons why churches should be considered essential.

“It is a constitutional right to freely exercise our faith. Teaching and socializing in church nourishes our soul. According to a recent Gallup poll, those who attend church once a week report improved mental health compared to those who rarely attend church.

There are three provisions of HB 43, according to Mills:

• It guarantees that a government entity will not prohibit or restrict a religious organization during a declared emergency, to the same or greater extent than other organizations or businesses deemed essential or vital.

• The government will not take adverse action against a religious organization because it is religious.

• It provides a cause of action for religious organizations that have been harmed by a discriminatory act of government.

The only person who spoke out against the measure was Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville. While she said she could accept the first two provisions, she could not support the third. “Opening up to where we could sue our state for this just doesn’t make sense to me, either.”

Berg added, “I, too, am extremely religious, and somehow my congregation was able to maintain online services with in-person communication with congregants who needed it throughout the pandemic with very little disruption to our congregation. So it is doable. »

The bill passed 30-7 and is now heading to the governor’s office.

Following the passage, David Walls, Executive Director of the Family Foundation released a statement saying:

“Churches are essential to the well-being of Kentuckians and their communities. “With the passage of HB 43, churches will be rightly recognized as essential in Kentucky, and the governor’s emergency powers will never again be abused to close churches or treat religious organizations worse than secular businesses. .”

Norma A. Roth