New law will prevent state from closing churches

Tuesday, September 22, 2020
 | 
Michael F. Haverluck (OneNewsNow.com)

megachurchLast week, the Republican governor of Ohio signed into law a bill that prohibits him and other public officials from forcing houses of worship in Ohio to shut their doors – even as Democrats continue to push for closures over the coronavirus.

Religious freedom to reign in Ohio

One of the sponsors of the bill – Republican State Senator Terry Johnson – expressed gratitude that Governor Mike DeWine signed the bill allowing Ohioans to freely practice their faith. He noted that other states have violated citizens' constitutional rights by forcing churches and other houses of worship to close their doors.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen several states encroach on Americans' First Amendment right of worship and assembly – disregarding it completely by forcing the closure of places of worship and religious institutions," Johnson told WXIX – a Fox affiliate in Cincinnati. "While I am thankful that no such order was imposed in Ohio, this amendment is a preemptive step – should we ever find ourselves in this situation again."

A partisan split over this religious freedom issue took place in the Ohio legislature, as the Huffington Post reported that most Democrats voted against the bill sponsored by Republicans. But churches must still comply with some pandemic restrictions.

"While houses of worship were not asked to close, church members still have to comply with the state's mask mandate issued by Governor DeWine in July," ChristianHeadlines.com noted.

This, however, did not sit well with Ohio Christian Alliance president Chris Long, who appealed to the governor to exempt church members from wearing masks during worship services.

"There's no reason for a health department to be calling a church for what they're doing in their sanctuary during worship," Long argued, according to The Columbus Dispatch. "This is a First Amendment issue."

Dan Tierney – DeWine's spokesman – said in a statement Wednesday that the governor was agreeable to relinquish his authority to close churches because he never considered shutting them down in the first place.

No more delays …

Besides precluding the Republican governor from closing churches, House Bill 272 also keeps him from postponing elections – as he did for the state's primaries in March because of COVID-19 – which had many in the state up-in-arms.

Tierney maintained that such a postponement would not take place again.

"At that stage, remember, the pandemic was emerging in March, and the situation on the ground changed very rapidly and unexpectedly," Tierney explained to Cleveland.com. "That was certainly a unique situation. Moving forward, the virus will not have the element of surprise."

The new law takes effect December 16.

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