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Published April 22, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
House Republicans passed legislation further protecting Tennesseans’ First Amendment right to hold religious services during a state of emergency.
House Bill 1137 prohibits the state or a public official from restricting church services during a state of emergency such as a pandemic or natural disaster. This legislation also prohibits county health officers from closing or limiting the operations of a church or religious organization.
The First Amendment guarantees the right of all citizens to freely practice their religion and to peacefully assemble at their chosen house of worship. Though Tennessee has not imposed any restrictions on religious services since the pandemic began, other states have. House Bill 1137 ensures the government will not infringe on those rights.
State Representative Rusty Grills, a Republican from Newbern, sponsored the legislations in an effort to provide Tennesseans with additional protection of their First Amendment right to continue to hold religious services during a state of emergency. The bill passed through the House with a 70-18 vote on April 12.
“Stay-at-home orders and church closures imposed in other states due to the coronavirus pandemic has devastating consequences for many American last year,” Grills said. “The First Amendment guarantees the right of all citizens to freely practice their religion and to peacefully assemble at their chosen house of worship. This legislation ensures government does not infringe on those rights in Tennessee.”
House Bill 1137 gives religious groups a guarantee of their right to continue to worship during a pandemic or other state of emergency. The legislation does not prohibit the state or a local health officer from setting quarantine orders or closing public establishments.
Previously, Grills stressed the importance of maintaining those religious freedoms in Tennessee.
“I just don’t believe the governor by the stroke of a pen should be able to stop religious services. Everyone is worried to death about their physical well-being. But at the same time, our spiritual well-being is important because it has eternal value,” Grills stated. “So we need to make sure that our churches have the doors open and willing and ready to allow congregations to meet.”
The Senate version of the bill, cosponsored by Senator Janice Bowling and Senator Joey Hensley, has been recommended for passage with amendments and has been referred to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee.