TALLAHASSEE, FL – A bill that will categorize religious services as “essential services” in the event of an emergency that was passed by the Florida state legislature in January was sent to the desk of Governor Ron DeSantis on Friday, who is expected to sign it before a June 30 deadline to do so.
During the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses, services, and places of worship that were not deemed essential were forced to close their doors amid mandatory lockdown measures passed by many state and local governments across the country. Major big-box retailers and convenience and liquor stores were among businesses that were considered essential services and allowed to remain open.
However, the Florida bill – SB 254 – would officially declare places of worship as being essential, and therefore allowed to remain open in the event of a public emergency or disaster.
The law would not be absolute and would contain some exceptions; religious services could still be locked down under certain circumstances, such as an emergency lockdown order that “applies uniformly to all entities in the affected jurisdiction,” according to the bill’s sponsor, State Senator Jason Brodeur.
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“It applies to all emergency orders that would come in. It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship,” he 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.”
“No government should have the authority to prevent any American from exercising their freedom of religion,” Senator Brodeur added.
The bill looks to make permanent a similar executive order signed by Governor DeSantis during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that declared houses of worship to be essential, allowing them to remain open.