St. Patrick Church
St. Patrick Church in North Hollywood, California. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

CA Legislator Wants Religious Services Deemed Essential During State of Emergency

By Alejandra Molina

Sen. Brian Jones, a Republican state senator in California, has introduced legislation that would deem religious services an essential activity during any declared state of emergency.

The bill, known as the Religion is Essential Act, would require state and local governments to allow religious services to continue during an emergency.

It would prohibit government institutions from enforcing a health, safety, or occupancy requirement that “imposes a substantial burden on a religious service” during an emergency, according to language from the bill.

A religious organization, under the bill, would be allowed to file a claim for relief in an administrative or judicial proceeding if it has been subjected to “government overreach.”

The California Family Council, the Capitol Resource Institute, and the Judeo-Christian Caucus are among groups listed as co-sponsoring the bill.

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“Americans are guaranteed religious freedom and the right to congregate with fellow members at their chosen house of worship,” Jones said in a statement.

Brian Jones
Sen. Brian Jones

Jones criticized Gov. Gavin Newsom as using COVID-19 as an excuse “to violate” the rights of California residents to congregate for worship.

This proposed piece of legislation comes days after a divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Feb. 5 that California could not forbid indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic. The ruling limits attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and restricts singing and chanting inside.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that “federal courts owe significant deference to politically accountable officials” when it comes to public health restrictions, but he said deference “has its limits.”

Meanwhile, Justice Elena Kagan wrote in a dissent for herself, Justice Stephen Breyer and Justice Sonia Sotomayor that the court was “making a special exception for worship services” instead of treating them like other activities where large groups come together “in close proximity for extended periods of time.”

Since the ruling, some religious leaders have opened their churches, mosques and temples to worshippers, but many others, including those hard-hit by the pandemic, are choosing to continue congregating outdoors and online. 

Alejandra MolinaAlejandra Molina is a national reporter for Religion News Service based in Los Angeles, California.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

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5 thoughts on “CA Legislator Wants Religious Services Deemed Essential During State of Emergency”

  1. As a Californian, I’m eager to get back to worshipping in church. However, since my church – one of MANY in the Golden State – meets on a school campus – must wait until we secure a real place for services – I’d like to know just how this bill impacts the thousands of Christians who cannot gather because they have no “physical” place of worship.

    Also, given that we are still not out of purple zones – and who knows when we’ll get out? – Jones’ well-meaning bill likely won’t go too far. The indoor church seating organization isn’t unlike sports and music arenas.

    The people whohue and cry over the so-called violation of “religious freedom” apparently haven’t: A) been stricken with COVID; B) haven’t lost a family member, friend, or coworker to the virus; or C) haven’t followed global news about the pandemic’s effects – much less in their own counties.

    I’m glad that a state politician IS standing up for the freedom to worship. Yet, just because “church is essential” doesn’t necessarily mean that worship MUST be in the main church building. Or that Sunday worship services are any more therapeutic than a live therapy/counseling session. Or eating indoors at California Pizza Kitchen, for that matter.

    1. “Do not forsake the assembling (gathering together) of yourselves, as is the manner of some.”

      1. A Biblical command.
      2. God is worthy to be worshipped.
      3. God ordained and commanded that we should come together to do this as His body of believers (yes, as individuals too, but I’m focusing on the collective aspect).
      4. He created us in His Image and likeness; there is Fellowship in the Godhead. He made us to relate to Him and to one another, because He knows how vital this is to our wellbeing; Spiritual, mental, emotional and the impact this has on the whole man.
      5. He feeds His flock, whilst gathering, with the Bread of Life, which is broken as we sit under His Word, which is Spirit and Life, and then as we share fellowship.

      I could go on. Suffice it to say, there is no comparison between God’s Church coming together and going for a pizza. A fully functioning ‘Body’ is able to provide ‘counselling.’ Online services do not provide the need for ‘fellowship.’ We are a body, not isolated parts.

      Sadly, whatever shape or form it takes, death has a 100% fatality rate. The only “way out” of that is the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Church of Jesus Christ is called to “Let your light shine, that men may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Our “light” is not shining if we have, or appear to have, no more to say to a dying world than any one else. Death is not the end for the believer and “the world ” needs the hope which ony the Living God can give. To gather together is not an optional ‘add on’ for the child of God; it is part of his very Life. Christ is the Head of the Church and He is coming back to reign. So, while we live, we live to serve Him and be found pleasing to Him, by His grace. He loved us and gave Himself for us. “Here, Lord, I give myself away, ’tis all that I can do.”

      1. Pauline, your points are well taken. However, there are many ways that believers can continue to meet together, apart from online services. For example, pastor and elders can provide home visits for people who need ministering too. There are various small group options as well that provide the function of the church gathering together.

        Death does have a one hundred percent fatality rate, but if you are hoping to win souls for Christ with that kind of line without showing any sense of compassion or sensibility toward the fear of a very real and deadly disease, I wonder how effective it will be. I have heard numerous people on this blog post similar comments about people’s fear of COVID saying that we are all going to die anyway. While that is true, please do not forget that our Lord was grieved by death, even though He could raise the dead and came to give eternal life to those who believe in Him even if they die (John 11:25, 35).

        1. Thank you, Darren. Your response made me think about why I’ve been so baffled about why this argument has become so divisive: my church has found a LOT of ways to still connect outside of online services. In-home visits, small groups, recreating “drive in theaters” in the parking lot while featuring a Christian film or speaker series, and more. I can truly say I am more connected to many in my church than I was before the pandemic, with friendships and discipling relationships stronger than they’ve ever been. It has made me truly see this time of quarantine as a blessing – it has forced us to find other ways to intentionally meet together without relying solely on “see you next Sunday.”

  2. Headless Unicorn Guy

    You know what they actually call this?
    “JESUS CHRIST SUPERSPREADER.”

    In my part of the country we have one Celebrity Megapastor (the original “JMac”) who drive-time radip describes as “flipping both middle fingers at the Public Health Departments”. (Their words, not mine.) This in the area that’s been the most recent COVID Hot Spot in the country.

    And they now have a CHRISTIAN Supreme Court to strike down any opposition to Jesus Christ Superspread Events.

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