A bill prohibiting government-mandated emergency closures for worship services has been delayed once again, as the Tennessee General Assembly floor session on Monday. State Representative Chris Todd (R-Madison County) delivered the news on behalf of the sponsor, State Representative Rusty Grills (R-Newbern), requesting that the bill be placed on the next available calendar. No explanation was given for this delay.
As The Tennessee Star reported last week, Grills delayed the bill initially due to concerns from legislators opposed to prohibiting church closures. Two Democratic legislators, State Representatives London Lamar (D-Memphis) and Harold Love, Jr. (D-Nashville) expressed concerns that the bill constrained government authorities from stopping church gatherings during a pandemic or other emergencies. Lamar argued that services could be virtual.
Several weeks ago, State Representative Darren Jernigan (D-Old Hickory) issued an amendment that altered the bill significantly. The original language of the bill had prohibited house of worship closures and any limitations to religious services or activities. The amendment removed the latter provisions. Instead, the bill would only prevent closures from the state or local government.
Church attendance has been dropping consistently for decades. According to a recent Gallup poll, under 50 percent of Americans belong to a house of worship – an all-time low. From 1937 to 1999, about 70 percent of Americans belonged to a church, mosque, or synagogue. That 60-year-old trend broke at the turn of the 21st century.
During the pandemic, the country saw a significant decline in worship attendance. Cell phone data marked the initial decline for in-person attendance at the time when the national emergency was announced.
The State Senate will consider the bill on Tuesday.
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