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.