(RepublicanInformer.com)- Religious services in Florida could soon be labeled as “essential services” in the state, as Republican Governor Ron DeSantis may soon sign a new bill designating them as such.
DeSantis recently received the full text of the bill, which was passed through the Florida legislature back in January. He has until June 30 to sign the bill, known as SB 254.
If it were signed into law, the bill would prevent the state government in Florida from having the ability to shut down any religious services in just about every circumstance, but especially under any “emergency orders.”
The Florida legislature originally introduced the legislation when houses of worship were shuttered during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because they weren’t considered “essential services,” the religious services had to stop when the lockdowns were in place.
Republicans who were at the forefront of the effort for this new bill said they were worried that houses of worship might be forced to close in the future while stores that sold marijuana or liquor would be allowed to remain open.
The new bill says that houses of worship can only be shut down “in an emergency order which applies uniformly to all entities in the affected jurisdiction may be applied to a religious institution if the provision is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”
The sponsor of the bill, state Senator Jason Brodeur, explained how it would work:
“It applies to all emergency orders that would come in. It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship … 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 … No government should have the authority to prevent any American from exercising their freedom of religion.”
Houses of worship were the center of much debate, discussion and controversy during various states’ shutdown orders at the beginning of the pandemic. While places of business such as grocery stores and liquor stores were allowed to remain open, houses of worship were forced to shutter.
Many religious services had to stop, as a result, leaving a gap in services that were desperately needed by people across the country at a time of vulnerability and concern. That led many religious institutions to challenge the states’ ongoing lockdown orders that extended way past the height of the pandemic.
In response to that, Florida’s legislature passed this law to prevent the situation from happening again in the future and, in the eyes of the lawmakers, prevent any government from overreaching their authority.
As the pandemic raged on, DeSantis actually signed an executive order that allowed all religious services to remain open in Florida. But, this new law will ensure it remains that way no matter who is in the governor’s mansion.