State Sen. George Burns, R-Pollard, has filed a measure that would modify the Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act to ensure government entities cannot close churches, religious institutions or houses of worship.
The measure is a response to the closure of churches and houses of worship across the nation during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Bill 216 would add that the closure of a religious institution, or the declaration of a religious institution as “non-essential,” would be deemed a substantial burden on the free exercise of religion. The measure also states that a government entity cannot restrict access to religious facilities or gatherings as long as the institution is not engaged in illegal activities.
“Many churches across the nation were forced to close their doors due to government overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Burns said. “Fortunately, my church carried on in a safe manner.
“During a health emergency, it’s absolutely important to take precautions and do all we can to ensure we keep ourselves and others safe, but it’s ridiculous to think that the government could close churches by labeling them as ‘non-essential,’ while other businesses, such as casinos, may remain open. This is a direct attack on our freedom of religion.”
While churches in Oklahoma were not forced to completely close last spring, many shut their doors after social gatherings of 10 or more people were prohibited, making it nearly impossible to hold in-person worship. Fifteen states across the nation have exempted religious gatherings from their COVID-19 restrictions.
If signed into law, the measure would become effective on Nov. 1.