Last year, thousands of churches faced lockdowns, fines, and harassment in the wake of restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In response, ADF successfully defended churches and ministries in 17 legal matters related to COVID-19. And we’ve assisted, or equipped others to assist, over 3,200 churches and ministries on COVID-19 related issues.
But as pandemic restrictions have begun to ease over the last few months, churches and religious organizations have started to ask: If this happens again, how can we ensure that religious freedom is protected?
At the start of the 2021 legislative session, several state legislators decided to take on this question. In a number of states, legislation was introduced that would ensure that churches and other religious organizations are allowed to remain open during a state of emergency on the same terms as other businesses and services.
Thankfully, this year we’ve seen four states enact these protections! Earlier this month, New Hampshire became the most recent state to enact these protections when Gov. Chris Sununu signed “ The New Hampshire Religious Liberty Act ” into law.
Without legislation like this, states could try to continue to treat churches and religious organizations worse than businesses and suppress the right of Americans to freely exercise religion. And churches and religious organizations could be forced to bear a legal cost if they push back. By adopting laws like New Hampshire’s, states can provide clear guidelines to government officials requiring them to consider the importance of religious organizations when enacting emergency measures.
Now, four states have made it clear: the right to exercise your religion is not suspended during times of crisis.
Public officials play an important role in protecting health and public safety, but the First Amendment—including the right to freely exercise religion—is never suspended. This means that the government cannot treat churches worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms without violating the Constitution.
Let’s not forget what happened in Las Vegas last year. When casinos were allowed to re-open, thousands of people streamed back into casinos. Meanwhile, Nevada churches were prohibited from holding worship services with more than 50 people—under threat of criminal and civil penalties.
As concern grows over the Delta variant and COVID-19 resurgences across the country, it is more important than ever to remind our government officials that extraordinary times are no excuse for favoring the secular over the religious. Free exercise of religion is not suspended during a crisis. In fact, it’s all the more important during these challenging times!
While each state or local public policy response to increasing cases will undoubtedly differ, they must share at least one trait: They must not violate the Constitution.
Please prayerfully consider giving a gift today to help protect churches, and your neighbors, from becoming victims of government overreach. Remember, it’s not just their freedom on the line—it’s yours too.
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