Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida is making another bold move for the residents of his state, signing a bill that bars the state from prohibiting religious services during any emergency declaration.
The bill would work to protect religious groups, such as churches, and allow the continuation of public gatherings within the organization, even during events such as the recent COVID-19 pandemic under certain circumstances.
Senate Bill 254, which passed through the state senate in January, states that an emergency declaration “may not directly or indirectly prohibit a religious institution from conducting regular religious services or activities.”
The caveat exception in the bill allows for a halt of services or gatherings only when all businesses are required to close.
Defining such services and gatherings as “essential” places religious organizations in the same category as grocery stores, gas stations, and other entities that can remain open for basic provisions during an emergency declaration.
SB 254 was introduced through the state legislature after religious institutions were deemed “non-essential” throughout the United States during the coronavirus pandemic.
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Senator Jason Brodeur, said that the legislation would prevent future bans on places of worship under a state of emergency.
Bill sponsor Jason Brodeur said, "It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship."https://t.co/Mc1XXUhQ0d
— Palm Coast Observer (@PCObserver) January 28, 2022
“It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship,” Brodeur said. “What it doesn’t seek to do is what we’ve seen in some of the other states, where churches, synagogues, and mosques were singled out for congregated activities.”
In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Desantis designated all religious services in the state of Florida “essential” after other states like Washington, New York, and California shuttered places of worship. He signed an executive order allowing religious institutions to continue their weekly gatherings and services.
The order from DeSantis came shortly after the pastor of a Tampa megachurch was arrested for holding two in-person church services, violating a Hillsborough County ordinance prohibiting gatherings of more than ten people.
Florida is not the only state to enact such a measure. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey signed a similar bill in April, which deemed all religious services essential in emergencies.