Oklahoma Senator proposes bill that prohibits grouping churches as ‘nonessential’

A Republican senator in Oklahoma, George Burns, R-Pollard, has commenced a bill that seeks for the amendment of the state Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The amendment would add that churches are seen as ‘’nonessential’’. Likewise, the bill would ensure that churches remain open. Sen. Burns said that the decision to close down any religious institution or tag them as nonessential would be seen as a contradiction on the freedom of religion.

Below is an excerpt of the Senate Bill 216, which was filed by filed by Sen. Burns, R-Pollard;

“A government entity shall not restrict access to religious facilities or gatherings as long as such institutions are not engaged in illegal activities.’’

If the bill is passed, the law that protects church gatherings would take effect from November 1, 2021. This is according to Burns’ legislation.

While speaking with television station KOKH, Burns said that he proposed the bill due to the restrictions that church gatherings faced in the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he affirmed that his church went about their activities obeying the COVID-19 guidelines.

He added that implementing the safety rules is quite important. However, he does not support any action against churches when it is obvious that non-essential venues are allowed to operate. Also, he made mention of the need to take precautions during health emergencies. But, he finds it ridiculous that the government decides to close down churches by tagging them as ‘non-essential’. Meanwhile, other businesses like casinos are allowed to operate. He affirms that this is a deliberate attack on religious freedom

It will be recalled that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito had previously made a case for churches due to the uneven law that was made due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Churches had greater restrictions as compared to other secular facilities. Alito made these observations while making a keynote speech at the virtual event of the Federalist Society’s annual National Lawyer’s Convention in November, 2020.

He made his point in reference to the State of Nevada, which had previously closed casinos but later permitted them to operate up to 50% capacity. This also included those with normal large capacity.

Meanwhile, churches were restricted to 50 persons per building, no matter the size of the auditorium.

“So, if you go to Nevada, you can gamble, drink, and attend all sorts of shows, but here’s what you can’t do: If you want to worship, and you’re the 51st person in line, sorry; you are out of luck,” Alito said. “The size of the building doesn’t matter, nor does it matter if you wear a mask or stay six feet away from everybody else. And it doesn’t matter if the building is carefully sanitized before or after a service.”

According to Alito, the state was saying that Christians should forget about physical worship but place more focus on secular activities. It is pertinent to note that churches that spoke about the COVID-19 laws already had safety plans which included wearing of face masks, provision of hand sanitizer, and maintaining social distancing among church attendees.

Furthermore, there are more persons who have argued that church does not necessarily have to be about physical gathering. Nevertheless, many Christians have quoted Hebrews 10:25 which says that Christians should not forsake the assembling of the saints.

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