Legislation aimed at preventing the limiting of religious gatherings or services has won preliminary approval from the Missouri House of Representatives. It aims to prevent religious organizations from being subjected to any future shutdown or quarantine orders.
Titled “Missouri Religious Freedom Protection Act,” bill HB1713, passed the House in February. If it also passes through the Missouri Senate and is signed into law, It would prevent public officials from shutting down or limiting meetings or services held by religious groups.
“Our places of worship operate in a very unique way in this state, and we as government should not shut them down,” said Alex Riley, a representative from Springfield who sponsored the bill.
The legislation would not apply to religious gatherings in cases where public officials have ordered emergency evacuations in the face of imminent danger from flooding, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, terrorist threats, civil unrest, or hazardous materials incidents. In such cases, religious services will be allowed to resume as soon as the imminent danger is over.
The bill also exempts religious gatherings where violence is being committed or planned.
Some legislators expressed concern over the bill’s civil unrest provision. One of them, Representative Jim Murphy, asked Riley if public officials would have the power to shut down a religious service in the event of a riot outside.
That particular exemption, Riley replied, is intended to allow law enforcement officers to intervene in situations where those gathered for religious services face some sort of threat. Riley added that he would consider improving the language of the civil unrest provision to clarify its intent.
Religious restrictions enacted during the pandemic have been heard by the Supreme Court. These decisions set a standard for similar cases.
In February 2021, the high court prevented California from banning indoor church services outright because of the pandemic. Such services, the court said, could continue as long as they are capped at 25 percent of a building’s capacity.
In April 2021, citing the right to religious freedom under the First Amendment, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote that California could not restrict religious gatherings in households because of the pandemic.
The court, however, allowed California to continue enforcing a 2020 ban on indoor singing and chanting. California’s restrictions were aimed at addressing the fact that COVID-19 is more easily transmissible in enclosed spaces where people are singing or chanting and releasing minute droplets that might carry the disease.
From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.
The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.