DeSantis signs bill protecting religious institutions from emergency lockdowns

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has signed a bill ensuring religious institutions will be the last to be closed during an emergency lockdown.

DeSantis signed on Friday SB 254which states that an emergency ordinance cannot directly or indirectly prohibit religious services or activities unless the government requires all entities, such as businesses and government offices, to cease operations.

The law does not require churches, synagogues, mosques and other places of worship to remain open during future crises. However, establishments may close if they wish.

The law will come into force on July 1.

State Sen. Jason Brodeur and State Rep. Nick DiCeglie — both Republicans — sponsored the legislation, which passed the Florida Legislature with bipartisan support.

The state Senate passed the measure 31-3 in January, and the House followed with an 88-29 vote in March, when a majority of Democrats opposed the proposal.

“If you think about the act of going to a place of worship, for the most part, it works very well as a restaurant,” Brodeur said, Orlando Weekly reported. “If you’re wearing a mask when you walk in, once you’re seated, that’s kind of where you’re seated. And so for people, during a pandemic, a place of worship may be the most essential service that they can have, more than a grocery store, a cinema or a restaurant.”

In April 2020, during the COVID-19 pandemic, DeSantis issued a temporary statewide emergency order outlining “assistance at religious services held in churches, synagogues and places of worship” as essential services and activities, The old times reported.

Florida’s action was different from states such as Washington, New York and California, which have closed local places of worship.

“I don’t think the government has the power to shut down a church,” DeSantis told reporters at the time, The Epoch Times reported. “I’m definitely not going to do that.”

After the threat of COVID-19 intensified during the pre-vaccination period, DeSantis advised against “packed” religious gatherings.

“We want people during this time to be spiritually together, but stay socially distant,” DeSantis said on April 6, 2020.

The Supreme Court on November 25, 2020 prohibited restrictions about religious services in New York that Democratic Governor Andrew M. Cuomo had imposed to fight the coronavirus.

In an unsigned opinion, the majority said Cuomo’s restrictions violated the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion.

In April 2021, California Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom rolled back his coronavirus pandemic restrictions on gatherings for worship.

“In response to recent court rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits for places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended,” the state of California’s website reads.

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