Presented by Sen. Brian Jones (R-Santee), the Religion is Essential Act bill was introduced April 13 before the Senate Judiciary Committee. More than 50 speakers spoke in approval of the introduced legislation during the trial, while only one caller voiced disapproval.
“The process of the hearing actually went very good,” Jones told The Epoch Times in an April 14 interview following the bill’s downfall.
The plan, Senate Bill 397, requested the right to practice one’s religion in one’s chosen house of worship to be considered essential and treated no separately than other state-declared essential services such as shopping malls, fast-food restaurants, and Hollywood film production.
The bill would have prevented the government from implementing a health, safety, or ownership demand that forces a substantial burden on a religious service during an emergency.
It would have conceded a religious organization that has been controlled by state or local government overreach to file a petition for relief in an administrative or judicial process.
The reason for SB 397 has been supported by two recent United States Supreme Court rulings.
South Bay Pentecostal United Church v. Newsom on February 5 was a 6–3 ruling overturning Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on indoor religious services during the CCP virus pandemic.
The high court ordered that while the state can force reasonable safety restrictions and limitations, it can’t impose an outright ban of church services if similar secular activities are allowed.
In Ritesh Tandon v. Newsom on April 9, the high court ruled 5–4, overturning Newsom’s ban on in-home private religious gatherings of more than three families.
The court ruled that religious gatherings should not be handled any differently than secular assemblies.
Jones claimed before the committee that the bill has received support from over 7,000 individuals across the state.
“While a governor can impose reasonable safety restrictions and limits, a governor cannot arbitrarily padlock churches, shrines, temples, mosques, and synagogues,” Jones told the committee. “Even the dissenters in these decisions believe that a governor cannot arbitrarily treat religion differently than similar secular activities.”
He cited Justice Sonia Sotomayor from a February ruling: “They may restrict attendance at houses of worship, so long as comparable secular institutions face restrictions that are at least equally as strict.
“While I believe the court got these rulings right, to make sure that a future governor during a future emergency doesn’t try this again, we need to guarantee the right to practice one’s religion in state law. Senate Bill 397 will do this simply declaring that religion is essential and should be on equal footing with all other services and industries designated as essential during an emergency.”
The proposed legislation was overwhelmed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on a 2–7–2 vote.