On Tuesday, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear signed a bill into law that would treat churches as “essential” if an emergency order is issued.
According to the legislation, House Bill 43, all government entities are prohibited from restricting religious organizations from “operating or engaging in religious services during a declared emergency to the same or any greater extent than other organizations or businesses that provide essential services necessary and vital to the health and welfare of the public are prohibited or restricted.”
While religious organizations will still be required to comply with “neutral health, safety, or occupancy requirements that are applicable to all organizations and businesses that provide essential services, … no health, safety, or occupancy requirement may impose a substantial burden on a religious organization or its services unless applying the burden to the religion or religious service in the particular instance is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest,” the bill adds.
The bill also explicitly prohibits a “governmental entity” from taking “any discriminatory action against a religious organization.”
According to The Christian Post, HB43 was introduced by Republican representative Shane Baker in January. On March 1, the House passed the bill in an 83-12 vote. The senate then passed the bill on March 23 in a 30-7 vote, sending it to the governor’s office.
Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen lauded Kentucky lawmakers and Beshear for passing and signing the bill, respectively.
“Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment,” Chafuen said in a statement.
“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. HB 43 makes it clear that officials cannot discriminate against religious operations, including during a public crisis. We commend Gov. Beshear and the Kentucky Legislature for taking this significant step to defend religious liberty for all Kentuckians,” he concluded.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, religious organizations across the country faced many restrictions, some of which were ruled unconstitutional. These restrictions have prompted several states to pass laws prohibiting the unfair treatment of religious organizations when faced with an emergency declaration.
The Christian Post reports that North Dakota, New Hampshire and Indiana have all passed similar legislation in the last several years.
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Kayla Koslosky has been the Editor of ChristianHeadlines.com since 2018. She has B.A. degrees in English and History and previously wrote for and was the managing editor of the Yellow Jacket newspaper. She has written on her blog since 2012 and has also contributed to IBelieve.com and Crosswalk.com.