COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — The South Carolina House has approved a bill that would make sure churches and other religious organizations are treated as essential services during a state of emergency.
The bill given key approval on a 73-39 vote Thursday also says religious groups still have to follow safety protocols and occupancy rules during emergencies.
The proposal said churches and other houses of worship can’t be closed if other essential businesses are open.
Last spring while temporarily closing restaurants, beauty salons, gyms and other businesses because of COVID-19, Gov. Henry McMaster repeatedly stated closing churches would violate the freedom of religion provision in the U.S. Constitution.
After a routine affirmation next week, the bill will be sent to the Senate.
“This just allows a church to be on an even footing — a religious organization to be on a an even footing with all other businesses deemed to be essential services,” said Rep. John McCravy, R-Greenwood.
Democrats who opposed the bill said it was unnecessary because of the constitutional protection churches have and could lead to churchgoers to not take precautions and put themselves in danger.
“In your district did you have congregants who wound up dying because they went inside a building to serve God?” Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, asked McCravy.