The Bulletin Board

Bill easing restrictions on churches during state of emergency headed to governor’s desk

By: - June 24, 2021 3:25 pm
Bible on a table with a crucifix

Several local faith leaders said they’ve not been asked for help with religious exemptions from members of their congregations. (Getty Images)

Churches would be no more restricted than Home Depot and liquor stores during the next state of emergency under a bill that passed the House and Senate Thursday. While churches were not closed during the pandemic, their attendance capacity was limited in the pandemic’s early days. Many businesses were restricted far less.

In its initial form, House Bill 542 was vehemently opposed by civil rights advocates who said its broad wording would allow churches and even businesses to cite religious privilege to discriminate against others on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, and even marital status. Even with that section removed, Sen. Becky Whitley, a Hopkinton Democrat, said the bill would interfere with public safety decisions in the future. 

“While we all know religious gatherings cannot be singled out for discriminatory treatment in the middle of a pandemic, it may be legally appropriate for the government to impose limitations that impact religious worship,” she said. “Particularly if those decisions are based on scientific evidence and re-evaluated regularly to ensure that the restrictions are no more severe than necessary.”

During the House debate, Rep. Mark McLean, a Manchester Republican, supported the bill, saying, It recognizes that for people of faith, nourishment of the spirit is every bit as essential as nourishment of the body.”

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Annmarie Timmins
Annmarie Timmins

Senior reporter Annmarie Timmins is a New Hampshire native who covered state government, courts, and social justice issues for the Concord Monitor for 25 years. During her time with the Monitor, she won a Nieman Fellowship to study journalism and mental health courts at Harvard for a year. She has taught journalism at the University of New Hampshire and writing at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications.