The Republican-led Florida legislature is advancing a bill designed to protect churches and religious institutions from “emergency orders” of the type handed down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure will protect the right of such organizations to operate if any businesses in the state are permitted to operate.
The Florida Senate approved the bill on Thursday by a 31-3 vote. The measure is advancing through the state House toward a final vote. If passed there, it will go to Republican Governor Ron DeSantis to be signed into law.
After the last two years of COVID-related shutdown orders and other restrictions, religious leaders and conservative politicians proposed the new law. Churches in some locations have been ordered to close while liquor stores and facilities that sell legal marijuana were allowed to continue operations.
Republican State Senator Jason Brodeur sponsored the bill and said it is not simply a “knee-jerk reaction” to the pandemic. He said that the act ensures that churches are treated the same as businesses. He said that it provides that “if Publix is open, so is your place of worship.”
The law would also make a permanent declaration by Gov. DeSantis in April 2020. His executive order at that time defined churches as “essential services” and made them explicitly exempt from lockdown orders at the beginning of the pandemic.
The new law will follow other actions taken by the Florida legislature to protect citizens from COVID overreach. In May of last year, the state enacted a law declaring that no business may demand proof of COVID-19 vaccination as a condition for entering a business or other commercial venue.
The state is also working on legislation against mask mandates in schools and vaccine mandates as a condition of employment. DeSantis said that the state is dedicated to “respecting individual freedom.”