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CA Religious Leaders Gather Tomorrow at Capitol to Support Bill Protecting Religious Practice

Religious leaders and Constitutional Attorneys are coming to the capitol tomorrow to show their support for the Religion is Essential Act, a bill to codify into law decisions the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly made to protect religious practice in California. The last of five court rulings was handed down last Friday when the Supreme Court struck down a ban on home Bible studies. SB 397 has its first hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee tomorrow afternoon. 

For the past year, many California religious leaders have been upset with how Governor Gavin Newsom has relegated religious organizations to “second class” status, preventing them from using their facilities during the pandemic, while exempting favored secular businesses and services from these requirements. In response, California State Senator Brian Jones of Santee authored the Religion is Essential Act, a bill sponsored by the California Family Council, Real Impact, Capitol Resource Institute, and the Judeo-Christian Caucus to protect the religious liberty of churches and other religious organizations during a state of emergency.

SB 397 has five main components: 

  • It requires that the Governor and local governments treat religious services as an essential service (just like retail) during any declared state of emergency.
  • It prohibits the state and local governments from discriminating against a religious organization during an emergency.
  • It requires the state and local governments to permit religious services to continue operating during an emergency.
  • It prohibits 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.
  • It allows 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.

Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of the Religion is Essential Act on Tuesday will be Stanford University Professor of Medicine Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D. He is co-author of the Great Barrington Declaration, a critique of lockdown policies used to control the COVID-19 pandemic, and signed by over 14,000 scientists.

In his letter of support, Dr. Bhattacharya argues that “the draconian restrictions that California has placed on religious worship during the epidemic are not supported by public health considerations.” He also wrote that “the overwhelming evidence that religious attendance provides psychological benefits for attendees should be considered against the cost of a marginal increase in disease spread (a harm that can be mitigated without banning worship).”

Also speaking at the hearing in favor of SB 397 is Alliance Defending Freedom Attorney Greg Chafuen who published an article over the weekend about why states should protect religion as “essential” during emergencies. “In their responses to the pandemic, many government officials revealed blatant disregard for — and in some cases, outright hostility towards — something many Americans consider essential to their lives: religion,” wrote Chafuen. “This kind of hostility towards religion is wrong. And fortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court agrees. In 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot treat religious organizations worse than secular ones during an emergency. This led other courts to recognize that important rights are violated when states close church doors while opening those of hundreds of secular businesses.”

Action Steps to Support the Religion is Essential Act, SB 397

  • Come to the Capitol Hearing:
    The Religion is Essential Act will be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, April 13th, in the Senate Chamber with the hearing starting at 1:30 p.m. You can attend the hearing live and even voice your support for the bill. It’s a long hearing with lots of bills to be heard, so plan to stay all afternoon.
  • Watch the Hearing Online and Voice your Support for SB 397 Over the Phone.
    If you can’t attend the hearing in person, then you can call in and voice your support for SB 397 over the phone. Go here for instructions on how to do that and watch this “how-to-video” from our friends at Capitol Resource Institute. The phone number and access code are as follows: 844-867-6163, Access Code: 1101654.
  • Call in Campaign:
    Call your Senator and encourage him or her to support the Religion is Essential Act. Click here and we will get you connected for your Senator.
  • Sign the Religion is Essential Act


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