Arizona House Votes for Bill Declaring Churches Essential, Even During Emergencies Like COVID

State   |   Center for Arizona Policy   |   Feb 22, 2022   |   7:17PM   |   Phoenix, Arizona

Churches and other religious organizations are essential services, especially during a public emergency.  Today, the Arizona House acknowledged that by voting 37-22-1 to pass the Religion is Essential Act.

HB 2507 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 that are deemed essential. The need for this bill became apparent during the COVID pandemic when governments shut down churches, while allowing other businesses – including liquor stores – to remain open.

The government has a duty to uphold the First Amendment, and it should not be singling out churches with extra regulations. Extraordinary times are no excuse for officials favoring the secular over the religious.

At a minimum, the First Amendment requires government to treat religious organizations the same as comparable secular organizations. When the government treats churches worse than casinos, gyms, and indoor malls in its COVID-19 response, it violates the Constitution.

With this vote, these representatives recognize that religious organizations should continue to operate during a public emergency to the same or greater extent, as other businesses or services declared essential. This vote acknowledges public officials have the authority to protect health and public safety, but the First Amendment – including the free exercise of religion – is never suspended.

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I thank HB 2507 sponsor Representative Ben Toma, and all the brave lawmakers who protected religious freedom today. I am hopeful the Arizona Senate will recognize that the free exercise of religion should never be suspended.

HB 2507 now heads to the Senate for consideration. We will keep you informed and call on you to ask your senators to support this important first amendment law. See our fact sheet on this bill here.