Religious Freedoms Now Protected During A State Of Emergency

Religious Freedoms Now Protected During A State Of Emergency

By Terri Jo Neff |

A new law will take effect in Arizona this summer to prevent state officials from shutting down churches or religious services during a public health or public safety emergency.

Gov. Doug Ducey signed House Bill 2507 on Monday, defining a religious service as an essential service during a declared state of emergency. The legislation also  protects the fundamental right of Arizonans to exercise their religion freely during a time of crisis and further protects a religious organization from discrimination when it operates or seeks to operate during a state of emergency.

HB2507, which was sponsored by House Republican Majority Leader Ben Toma, notes the U.S. Constriction expressly protects the free exercise of religion, including the right to hold beliefs  inwardly and secretly as well as the right “to act on those beliefs outwardly and publicly.”

Toma, who received bipartisan support for HB2507 in the House, said he introduced the bill to ensure Arizonans’ religious freedoms are forever protected.

“During the pandemic, while Arizona was blessed with government leaders that respected religious freedom and the essential role of religious organizations to the people, that wasn’t the situation in some neighboring states,” Toma said. “This law ensures that religious freedom and services in Arizona will continue to be protected in the future, regardless of any emergency, or who leads the state.”

Rep. Lupe Diaz, himself a pastor, said religion is an essential service and religious freedom is essential, which was especially true during the pandemic when Arizonans were facing so many challenges.

“As we look at being able to exercise our religious liberties, which is a constitutional right, it is amazing that we can be denied gathering at churches, yet have stadiums, malls and box stores open,” Diaz said last week in explaining his vote for HB2507.

Cathi Herrod, president of the Center for Arizona Policy, also applauded the signing of HB2507 into law. She noted that while public officials have the authority to protect health and public safety, they cannot suspend the First Amendment, including the free exercise of religion.  

“By signing HB 2507 the Governor acknowledges the fact that religious organizations provide essential services that are vital to the health and welfare of the public,” Herrod said Monday. “They not only meet the spiritual needs of our communities, but they also support social services, health care, and economic activity.”

House Classifies Worship As Essential to Prevent Repeat of 2020 Shutdowns

House Classifies Worship As Essential to Prevent Repeat of 2020 Shutdowns

By Corinne Murdock |

The Arizona House passed HB2507 on Wednesday, a bill declaring that religious services are to be considered essential during a state of emergency. While all House Republicans voted for the bill, several Democrats voted against the majority of their party to pass it: State Representatives César Chávez (D-Maryvale), Diego Espinoza (D-Tolleson), Alma Hernandez (D-Tucson), Daniel Hernandez (D-Tucson), Robert Meza (D-Phoenix), and Lorenzo Sierra (D-Avondale).

However, the bill would require that religious organizations comply with safety or occupancy requirements contingent upon other essential services. The only way around occupancy requirements would be in the case that the government couldn’t provide proof that their requirement was the least restrictive means of furthering their compelling interest. If the government violates these protections, then a religious organization could receive declaratory and injunctive relief, compensatory damages, and attorney fees.

In Canada, worship wasn’t considered an essential practice throughout the pandemic. One preacher, Artur Pawlowski, has been arrested five times for keeping his church open and opposing the draconian government. Last week, Pawlowski was arrested for speaking to members of the Freedom Convoy, the truckers protesting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s dictatorship. Pawlowski’s speech reportedly caused the truckers to change their mind about abandoning their protest: instead of leaving the border for Edmonton, they heeded Pawlowski’s charge to “hold the line.” According to Pawlowski’s lawyer, law enforcement keeps Pawlowski in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

The Canadian government further winnowed away at the freedom of religion by outlawing certain beliefs, such as opposition to homosexuality.

Pawlowski grew up under the Soviet Union’s Communist regime in Poland. Like Pawlowski, the state representative behind HB2507, Ben Toma (R-Peoria), grew up in a dictatorship that his family eventually fled: the communist dictator of Romania from 1965 to 1989, Nicolae Ceaușescu. Toma offered details of his experience in an interview with James T. Harris on “The Conservative Circus.” Toma expressed fear that the government’s response during COVID-19 marked a descent into an authoritarian state. He noted how his bill helped push back against dictatorial trends exhibited by the government throughout 2020: disincentivizing and outlawing religion to increase government reliance and subservience. 

“If your ultimate allegiance is to God, then you have something on which to rely on, to sort of fight back against state overreach,” said Toma. “But once you take God out of it, then the only thing you can rely on is what? You end up having to trust the state. To me, that’s the scariest possible solution because that’s how we got some of the worst dictators and some of the worst criminals, guilty of genocide and everything else across the world.”

In addition to the hostility toward religion, Toma observed that other signs of communism were present in the country, with implementation or entertainment of ideas like rationing, supply chain shortages, social credit, and censorship.

Governor Doug Ducey hasn’t lifted Arizona’s state of emergency yet.

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.