SACRAMENTO – Senator Brian W. Jones (R-Santee) today introduced Senate Bill 397, the “Religion is Essential Act.”
“Americans are guaranteed religious freedom and the right to congregate with fellow members at their chosen house of worship,” stated Senator Jones. "For 11 months, California Governor Newsom used the excuse of COVID to violate those rights and his fellow Democrat legislators sheepishly sat on their hands and allowed it to happen. Mercifully, the United States Supreme Court recently stepped in and returned our religious rights, but the threat from Newsom and others to undermine those rights again is still looming."
Specifically, Jones’ SB 397 would:
- Require that the Governor and local governments treat religious services as an essential service (just like retail) during any declared state of emergency; and
- Prohibit the state and local governments from discriminating against a religious organization during an emergency; and
- Require the state and local governments to permit religious services to continue operating during an emergency; and
- Prohibit the state and local governments from enforcing a health, safety or occupancy requirement that imposes a substantial burden on a religious service during an emergency; and
- Allow a religious organization that has been subject to state or local government overreach to file a claim for relief in an administrative or judicial proceeding.
SB 397 cites numerous court decisions with long-established precedents about religious freedom and also references scientific evidence about the essential role religion plays in Americans’ lives, health (physical and mental), and the economy (businesses and jobs).
“Why is it that Newsom and most Democrat politicians in our nation trust shoppers that are packed into ‘Big Box’ stores to social distance, but don’t trust leaders and congregants at houses of worship to do the same to protect the elderly and the vulnerable?” asked Senator Jones. “Practicing one’s religion can be done safely, even during a pandemic, and the state should never have turned those who practice religion into second class citizens. As U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch stated, ‘Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months ... As this crisis enters its second year—and hovers over a second Lent, a second Passover, and a second Ramadan—it is too late for the State to defend extreme measures with claims of temporary exigency, if it ever could … if Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry.’”
SB 397 is co-sponsored by California Family Council, Capitol Resource Institute, Judeo-Christian Caucus, and Real Impact. It is supported by Alliance Defending Freedom, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, and The Salt & Light Council, and it is awaiting assignment to a Senate policy committee for a hearing.