Virginia law prohibits unfair restrictions on churches during emergencies

by mcardinal

Curt Flewelling, FISM News


Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin has signed into law a bill that would ensure that houses of worship will be treated fairly during times of emergency. House Bill (HB) 2171 is known as the Emergency Services and Disaster Law; religious freedom; executive orders.

The law states: No rule, regulation, or order issued by the Governor or other governmental entity pursuant to the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law shall impose restrictions on the operation of a place of worship that is more restrictive than the restrictions imposed on any other business, organization, or activity.

Several states have enacted similar laws as a result of the harsh restrictions that were imposed on parishioners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many churches cried foul as they watched blue state governors deem big box and liquor stores “essential,” ensuring that their businesses could operate virtually unabated during the pandemic.

The arbitrary and disproportionate nature by which churches were targeted for restrictions, and even shutdowns, led many to take legal action against these executive order edicts. The issue of churches being treated differently than other businesses eventually ended up being argued at the Supreme Court.

In the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo, the high court ruled 5-4 that churches could not be targeted for harsh treatment by governmental edicts during a time of emergency. When issuing his opinion on the case, Justice Neil Gorsuch said, “The government cannot disregard the Constitution in times of crisis. Worship was just as essential as other businesses where the total number of people who could gather was not capped.”

He went on to say, “There is a pattern of states using the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to treat religious exercises worse than secular activities, and this is but one example of that.”

The Virginia law ensures that churches in the Old Dominion state will be treated in the same manner as other businesses in the state in the event of a public crisis.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) Legal Counsel Greg Chafuen praised Governor Youngkin and the Virginia General Assembly for standing up for religious freedom.

He issued this statement on the signing of the bill: “While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating churches worse than shopping centers, restaurants or gyms.”

Glenn Youngkin continues to make good on his campaign promise to govern in a conservative manner in the areas of faith, family, and freedom. The signing of HB 2171 is yet another example of the governor’s commitment to those principles.