Churches could not be closed in future pandemics under Ducey’s office bill


Religious organizations would get a big berth to stay open during health crises if a bill sent to Gov. Doug Ducey on Tuesday is signed into law.

supported by Republicans House Bill 2507 prohibits lawsuits against religious organizations on the grounds that the organizations are religious, operate during a state of emergency, or engage in the exercise of religion. It also allows them to sue state and local governments for violating this prohibition. The measure is a revived attempt to protect religious organizations after a a similar bill last year failed.

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The bill has been championed by supporters as a protection for churches during states of emergency, when they were forced to close to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative Christian lobby group, defined the bill on its website as a proposal guaranteeing equal treatment for all.

“The Religion is Essential Act ensures that churches and other religious organizations receive equal treatment during a public crisis, allowing them to remain open on the same terms as other businesses and services deemed essential,” a statement read. . online summary.

But critics warn that HB2507 could actually pave the way for open discrimination by churches and others.

Rep. Mitzi Epstein, D-Tempe, was unconvinced by the claim that the bill supports places of worship. Its language is broad enough to include everything from religious clubs to faith-based societies, she pointed out.

And by immunizing businesses that identify as religious, lawmakers could allow retaliation against employees who cannot then be brought to justice — such as firing someone for divorcing, Epstein said. Even religious organizations that provide public services would have more leeway. She said patients at religious hospitals could lose their ability to sue for medical negligence if the actions have roots in religious beliefs.

“The words on this page are far too broad and could be far too harmful to ordinary people just trying to live their lives,” Epstein said.

House Speaker Rusty Bowers, a member of the LDS Church, spoke in favor of the bill in a final debate on Tuesday. He touted the benefits of belonging to a religious denomination and said people should have the choice to attend services if they choose.

“In times of need, people can meet and comfort each other. They can encourage each other to offer help where there is sickness,” he said.

Bowers compared the closure of churches to policies of preventing people from visiting family members with COVID-19 in hospitals, calling them cruel. He noted that faith helped people overcome past epidemics like diphtheria, whooping cough and the Spanish flu.

A lot churches closed amid spanish flu, which has been compared to COVID-19 in its global spread, and those who have not seen massive spikes in their death toll. More recently, indoor church services have been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks.

Rep. Lupe Diaz, R-Benson, who is also a pastor, criticized the closure of churches at the height of the pandemic and said services provided by churches should be classified as essential.

“It’s amazing that we can be denied gathering, or maybe denied gathering in churches, and yet stadiums and malls are open, stores are open. It’s an essential service, especially when people are dealing with so many critical things in their lives,” he said.

Some critics worry the bill will protect perpetrators of child sexual abuse, but a provision in the bill says the lawsuit bar does not apply to lawsuits stemming from sexual misconduct or abuse. sexual acts committed against minors.

Still, civil rights groups like the Arizona chapter of the ACLU oppose the bill’s religious exemptions that can be so broadly enforced.

“Under HB2507, all religious organizations claiming to practice their religion would get a free pass for almost any violation of any law at any time,” says the group.

The bill passed 35-22 in a final vote in the House. Ducey has five days to sign or veto it.


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