Many of the public health restrictions enacted over the last 13 months have fallen well within the parameters of the powers that Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb’s office holds.
Requiring masks and adequate social distancing in public places have especially played a large role in slowing the spread of COVID-19, and will continue to prove crucial as the vaccine rollout continues.
However, one measure, at the onset of the pandemic, did step over the line as to what the state can and can’t restrict.
Last spring, for a short time, Holcomb did not allow houses of worship to hold services.
Major backlash led to the ban being lifted last April, and now lawmakers are on track to send Senate Bill 263 to the governor’s desk to make sure it never happens again.
Even during a public health emergency, it’s not up to the government to decide whether or not an individual can attend church.
In the Constitution, the First Amendment addresses the issue by saying: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Executive orders aren’t laws, but they function in the same regard.
But it’s not just us making this argument, as the Supreme Court has ruled among the same lines in other states multiple times.
Last week alone, the Supreme Court shot down a California regulation limiting religious worship at home in a 5-4 unsigned opinion. It was the fifth time the court had overturned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in similar cases, according to USA TODAY.
Most all places of worship have followed the state’s guidance since March of 2020. Not in fear of the government shutting them down, but because they want to make sure they aren’t subjecting their parishioners to any potential harm.
In Jackson County, no major virus outbreaks have been linked to any religious services. Most houses of worship require masks, social distancing, etc., and are continuing to seek guidance from the state and local health department for best practices.
Under S.B. 263, religious activities would be dubbed essential services, and "prohibit the state…from imposing restrictions on a religious organization that are more restrictive than the restrictions imposed upon other businesses and organizations that provide essential services to the public."
Most importantly, it makes sure that the government "may not restrict the right of the people to worship or to worship in person during a disaster emergency."
Religious services are essential, and neither Congress — or the governor — should be able to say otherwise. SB 263 would help ensure those rights.