Indiana Legislature OKs religious activities as essential

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Senate approved a bill Thursday that designates religious activities as essential services and prohibits any restrictions on them during a declared emergency.

The measure, which now heads to the governor, would prohibit state and local orders from restricting anyone’s ability to attend religious services during disaster emergencies. The legislation also bars state and local orders from being more restrictive on churches than on other businesses considered to be essential.

Houses of worship would be allowed to hold services without regard to capacity size, social distancing or mask mandates, for example. However, restrictions could apply to their schools or daycares.

“I hope it’s another 500 years before we ever have another disaster … like what our state and nation have experienced this last year,” Republican Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford said. “But should that arise, this should protect that very enshrined right in our Constitution.”

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb prohibited in-person worship services early in the pandemic. Republican legislative leaders praise Holcomb’s leadership during the pandemic, but the governor has faced conservative discontent over the more than 60 coronavirus-related executive orders he’s issued beginning with the public health emergency order signed last March 6 — the day Indiana’s first confirmed COVID-19 infection was announced.