TALAHASSE, Florida (LifeSiteNews) – Republican Florida Governor Ron DeSantis received a bill passed by Florida lawmakers designating religious services as “essential services” on Friday. DeSantis has until the end of the month to sign the bill.
SB 254 passed the Florida Senate in January and states that the government cannot shut down religious services under most circumstances. Under the provisions of the bill, religious services can take place as long as businesses remain open, and the government can only stop religious services if an emergency order applies “to all entities in the affected jurisdiction,” so long as the provisions involve furtherance of a compelling government interest and are “the least restrictive means furthering that compelling government interest.”
The bill came after religious groups and conservative politicians and commentators voiced concerns over the closure of churches and synagogues during the COVID-19 lockdowns, pointing out that liquor stores remained open yet houses of worship were forced to close.
Senator Jason Brodeur, the bill’s sponsor, said that the bill was in part a response to forced church closings during the COVID lockdowns. “It applies to all emergency orders that would come in. It would basically say if Publix is open, so is your place of worship,” said Brodeur. “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.”
A similar bill was signed by Republican Arizona governor Doug Ducey in April, which named religious services essential in emergencies. Ducey also signed a bill that protected the rights of clergy to visit hospitals.
DeSantis signed an executive order in 2020 that designated religious services as essential during COVID lockdowns. The order also exempted religious services from stay-at-home orders.
While Florida opted to protect religious freedoms during COVID lockdowns, other states enforced the closure of religious services. Last year, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 majority decision that California’s forced closure of in-person religious services was unconstitutional. The Thomas More Society also won two settlements against the state of California over policies that forced church closings.
If signed, SB 354 would come into effect July 1.