Reps in Arkansas proposes bill to prevent closing churches during emergencies

A bill which would prevent Arkansas State from restricting religious gatherings or closing them down during emergencies and disasters has been presented by Rep. Mary Bentley, R-Perryville, and Senator Kim Hammer, R-Benton. The bill also seeks to uphold the right of the state to give out safety rules that everyone must adhere to.

Likewise, it cites Supreme Court and federal appeal circuit precedent, which includes the Sixth Circuit ruling in 2020 against the State of Kentucky, which affirmed that;

“The government may not permit ‘life-sustaining’ operation to continue during a state of emergency without also permitting ‘soul sustaining’ operations such as religious services to continue, especially when the religious services ‘adhere to all the public health guidelines required of the other services.''

In this respect, the legislation affirmed that the state governor shall not restrict or prevent the gathering of religious bodies during emergencies. The Arkansas Family Council supported this bill and said that it is good proposal.

Below is an excerpt of House Bill 1211 as read by President Jerry Cox.

“Religion provides extensive benefits to the country by meeting the spiritual needs of the populace and by supporting vital social needs, including without limitation social services, health care, and economic activity.

“H.B. 1211 protects houses of worship from being singled out during an emergency the way they have been in other states. The bill prevents the government from penalizing a house of worship or other religious group that continues to hold services during an emergency. The bill also requires that churches and religious groups comply with the same basic health and safety standards everyone else does.

“Public officials have the authority to protect health and public safety, but the First Amendment — including the free exercise of religion — is never suspended,” he said. “H.B. 1211 ensures our government shall never close churches and other houses of worship even during a disaster or other emergency.”

The other sponsors of the bill are Reps. Johnny Rye, R-Trumann; Joe Cloud, R-Russellville; R-Cabot; and Sens. Kim Hammer, R-Benton; Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs; and Charles Beckham, R-McNeil.

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