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CA Senator Introduces Bill to Stop “Second Class Citizen” Status for Churches During Pandemic

If California politicians can trust shoppers to social distance while packed into big box stores, then churches should be trusted to do the same. That’s what Senator Brian Jones (R-Escondido)  argued as he introduced the Religion is Essential Act (SB 397) yesterday, a bill to require the state and local government to treat religious organizations just like they do other services considered “essential” during pandemics. SIGN SB 397 PETITION

“Why is it that Newsom and most Democrat politicians in our nation trust shoppers that are packed into ‘Big Box’ stores to social distance, but don’t trust leaders and congregants at houses of worship to do the same to protect the elderly and the vulnerable?” asked Senator Jones.  “Practicing one’s religion can be done safely, even during a pandemic, and the state should never have turned those who practice religion into second class citizens.” 

California Family Council’s president Jonathan Keller agrees. “The Golden State is blessed with thousands of religious organizations who serve an indispensable role in our communities. Beyond meeting spiritual needs, these essential organizations help provide social services, health care, and economic assistance to millions of Californians,” Keller said. “No church, synagogue, or mosque should ever be treated less fairly than a ‘big box store’ as they seek to feed the hungry, serve the homeless, and love our neighbors.”

The bill is sponsored by the California Family Council and several other Christian advocacy organizations. 

The introduction of this bill comes after the Supreme Court last week struck down Governor Gavin Newsom’s total ban on indoor worship services in a 6 -3 decision as unconstitutional. As part of the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months … As this crisis enters its second year—and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan—it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could … if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.’”

Several other states have also introduced “Religion is Essential Act”s around the county with similar language. Arkansas just announce the passage of its bill this week. Other states like Arizona, Montana, and Indiana also have bills making their way through the approval process. 

According Senator Jones, the California version of the Religion is Essential Act, SB 397, would:

  • Require that the Governor and local governments treat religious services as an essential service (just like retail) during any declared state of emergency; and
  • Prohibit the state and local governments from discriminating against a religious organization during an emergency; and
  • Require the state and local governments to permit religious services to continue operating during an emergency; and
  • Prohibit the state and local governments from enforcing a health, safety or occupancy requirement that imposes a substantial burden on a religious service during an emergency; and
  • Allow a religious organization that has been subject to state or local government overreach to file a claim for relief in an administrative or judicial proceeding.

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