Govt Can’t Close Churches During Emergency Anymore: new law

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A new law in South Carolina in the U.S has categorised churches and religious organizations as an “essential service” during emergencies and, essentially, prohibits the government from closing them.

The governor of the state, Henry McMaster, on Tuesday signed the bill into law.

The goal of the new law is to prevent the state from ordering churches to close during an emergency like COVID-19 — as happened in California and numerous other states in the U.S.

It was reported that governor McMaster never closed churches during the pandemic.

The new law states that: “During a state of emergency, religious services are deemed an essential service and are considered necessary and vital to the health and welfare of the public”.

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Henceforth, the government is prohibited from limiting the ability of churches and religious organizations to gather during an emergency unless at least two factors are met: 1) “all organizations or businesses providing essential services” are also limited, and, 2) the limit does not “impose a substantial burden on religious services” and the state “demonstrates that the burden is necessary to further a compelling state interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that interest”.

The new law states further that: “The State may not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization”.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), an advocacy group for religious liberty, applauded the new law.

ADF legal counsel Greg Chafuen said: “Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment. While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating houses of worship and religious organizations worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms”.

The law, Chaufuen said, “takes the modest step of ensuring that officials cannot use a public crisis to discriminate against religious operations in violation of the Constitution”.

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