House ready to vote on religious freedom bill
Image via AP.

covid church
The bill is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The House will soon vote on a bill that would ensure church doors are among the last to close during a state of emergency.

Sponsored by Lake Mary Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur, the bill seeks to categorize houses of worship as an “essential service,” meaning religious events and activities may continue so long as any business is permitted to operate.

The House took up the proposal (SB 254) on Tuesday, readying it for a vote later this week. Indian Rocks Beach Republican Rep. Nick DiCeglie is the companion bill sponsor.

“If there is an executive order that allows the grocery store to be open … it would also mean that religious institutions will also have to be open,” DiCeglie explained on the floor.

The legislation is a product of the COVID-19 pandemic. At the height of the pandemic, several states shuttered church doors in an effort to stop the virus’s spread while some business remained open.

In California, for example, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom limited indoor worship, and regulated singing or chanting at religious services. New York, meanwhile, rolled out capacity restrictions.

Churches in some areas of Florida were also impacted in the early months of the pandemic. A Hillsborough County megachurch pastor was arrested in April 2020 after hosting an in-person service with hundreds of parishioners, a move that defied a local ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.

Gov. Ron DeSantis later deemed houses of worship essential. Government, he asserted, lacks the authority to close churches.

“In times like this, I think the service that they’re performing is going to be very important for people, especially when you have difficult circumstances,” DeSantis said at an April press conference.

Aventura Democratic Rep. Joe Geller and Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis stood as the sole lawmakers who asked questions on the bill.

Geller posed a series of hypothetical questions, probing the limits of the proposal. Davis, meanwhile, asked for examples of religious activities protected under the bill.

If the bill becomes law, it would take effect July 1.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the Florida State Capitol. After a go with the U.S. Army, the Orlando-native attended the University of Central Florida and earned a degree in American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. He'd love to hear from you. You can reach Jason by email ([email protected]) or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.

One comment

  • Ron Ogden

    March 1, 2022 at 11:41 am

    This is a good bill, given the times. But the very idea that the government can regulate when a church is open is actually pretty da– abhorrent.
    The left likes to hoot and dance about separation of church and state, except when it benefits the state–or allegedly benefits the state.
    Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, reading rooms, you name it. All should be open for as long as they want to be, and to h–l with what the bureaucrat Putanas think. (look that one up to get the joke on Putin)

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