Florida House Passes Bill Making Churches Essential

The Florida House of Representatives passed a bill classifying religious institutions as “essential” during states of emergency. The bill was a result of the COVID pandemic, which saw many churches across the country forced to shut down due to pandemic-related concerns.

SB 254 already passed through the Senate in January with predominantly bipartisan support. Only three state senators – State Sen. Lori Berman (D-Lantana), State Sen. Tina Polsky (D-Palm Beach County), and State Sen. Bobby Powell (D-West Palm Beach) – voted against the measure.

The bill specifically says an emergency order may not prohibit a religious institution.

“An emergency order authorized by this part may not directly or indirectly prohibit a religious institution from conducting regular religious services or activities. However, a general provision in an emergency order which applies uniformly to all entities in the affected jurisdiction may be applied to a religious institution if the provision is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”

The Florida Capital Star reached out to Polsky’s office for comment regarding her “no” vote but did not immediately hear back.

In the Florida House yesterday, the bill passed with 88 voting for it and 29 voting against, largely along party lines.

The issue of essential religious services came to a head in Florida after Brandon, Florida, pastor Rodney Howard-Browne continued to have church services with hundreds of people, defying the governor’s stay-at-home order, and was subsequently arrested by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office in March 2020.

However, DeSantis’ follow-up orders provided carve-outs for religious gatherings to take place during 2020.

“If there is an executive order that allows the grocery store to be open … it would also mean that religious institutions will also have to be open,” said State Representative DiCeglie (R-Indian Rocks Beach) on the floor.

The bill sponsor for the Senate version of the bill, Florida State Senator Jason Brodeur (R-Seminole County), said on Twitter in January that no government should compel an American how to worship.

“Our bill to keep churches open during a public emergency has passed off the Senate floor!” Brodeur said. “No government should have the authority to prevent any American from exercising their freedom of religion.”

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Grant Holcomb is a reporter at The Florida Capital Star and The Star News Network. Follow Grant on Twitter and direct message tips.




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