Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) has signed a new law that deems religious services as essential, ensuring that they won’t be shut down during a state of emergency.
Senate Bill 263 “prohibits the state and a political subdivision 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.”
The measure comes as many houses of worship are still battling unconstitutional religious discrimination during the pandemic. SB 263 was authored by state Republican Senators Eric Koch, Liz Brown, and Aaron Freeman.
“This will protect that very carefully enshrined right in our Constitution,” Koch said. “As to the large gatherings, I trust, and I know that no religious leader would put the members of his church at risk in an irresponsible sort of way.”
Religious groups must continue to abide by health requirements “to the same extent as other organizations.”
In a statement on Friday, Alliance Defending Freedom Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen said passage of the bill is a step forward in protecting religious liberty.
“Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment,” Chafuen said. “While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the Supreme Court has made clear that the First Amendment ‘cannot be put away and forgotten’ even in a pandemic.”
He added, “This means that the government can’t treat churches worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms without violating the Constitution. We commend Gov. Holcomb and the Indiana Legislature for making it clear that officials cannot use a public crisis to discriminate against religious operations,” he added.
SB 263 passed the state House of Representatives by a vote of 73–20 and the Senate, 36–10. It goes into effect on July 1.