We’ve already seen a couple of states attempt to pass laws that would grant churches immunity during the next pandemic. They want to be treated like grocery stores — essential places permitted to remain open to large crowds regardless of future virus threats — despite the fact that churches usually involves speaking to and singing with each other, lingering in place for large blocks of time, and there are perfectly fine alternatives available to in-person worship.
But according to Heather L. Weaver of the ACLU, the bills proposed in places like Arizona, South Carolina, and Montana are even worse than that. Those states could allow religious organizations to be immune from everything as long as they’re exercising their faith in some way.
For example, passing the bills would mean that:
- Religious organizations in that state could claim immunity from criminal prosecution and civil liability for the sexual abuse or physical harm of children in connection with religious activities or rituals;
- Religious organizations could be shielded from the consequences of violating state nondiscrimination laws that conflict with their religious beliefs;
- Religiously motivated hate groups could avoid prosecution for criminal activities associated with exercising their beliefs; and
- Patients at religious hospitals could be unable to sue for medically negligent or reckless care that was provided based on the hospital’s religious beliefs.
Weaver says these bills could also shield churches from having to obey local fire codes. The way the bills are worded, churches wouldn’t have to obey any rules whatsoever if they were in the process of practicing their faith… which is an excuse that could theoretically apply to everything.
If the rules don’t apply to everybody, equally, then there’s no reason to bother with them at all. But the kind of religious groups backing these bills don’t want equality. They want special treatment. And their special treatment could involve putting people in literal danger.
… bills like HB 2648 in Arizona, HB 3105 in South Carolina, and SB 172 in Montana take the matter to whole new, never-before-seen level. While the bills do have language relating to the ability of religious organizations to operate during emergency disasters, tucked into them are provisions that would allow religious organizations to make broad claims of civil and criminal immunity, both during a public emergency and, arguably, in non-emergency contexts as well.
If you live in those states, please contact your representatives and urge them to vote against these bills. Churches shouldn’t be allowed to hurt people in the name of faith. It’s telling that advocates for these bills claim they just want churches treated like other essential locations (even though they’re not) while they’re privately pushing for selective treatment that could put other people in harm’s way while removing any sense of responsibility from the religious institutions.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Brian for the link)