Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz introduced a bill on Tuesday that would prevent state and local governments engaged in religious discrimination from receiving federal funding during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Safeguarding Americans from Coronavirus and Religious Exercise Discrimination Act would block state and local governments from receiving coronavirus relief funding if Attorney General William Barr finds that those governments are discriminating against religious individuals or institutions and violating First Amendment rights.
Barr would have to certify that the governments were no longer discriminating against religious freedoms for them to be eligible to receive funding.
“Throughout this pandemic we’ve seen numerous examples of state and local governments instituting discriminatory regulations that unfairly target people of faith and which restrict houses of worship from operating while exempting secular gatherings and operations from the same rules,” Cruz said in a statement provided to the Daily Caller News Foundation.
“As Congress continues to provide relief funds to combat the impact of COVID-19, it is crucial that we protect the First Amendment right of religious liberty from discrimination,” Cruz added.
“That’s why I’ve introduced the SACRED Act. By blocking funds from governments that discriminate against religious organizations, we can fairly protect religious liberty and the rights of those who seek to gather together safely for worship.”
The bill comes as governors and local governments renew travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders following months of shutdowns that critics say have been rife with religious discrimination.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam banned gatherings of 10 or more people in initial stay-at-home orders, a restriction which effectively banned church services.
Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom two weeks ago suspended religious gatherings indefinitely.
Authorities have arrested multiple religious leaders for defying shutdown orders, including Pastor Tony Spell of the Louisiana Life Tabernacle church and Florida megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne.
Attorney General William Barr warned in an early April statement that “even in times of emergency,” federal law prohibits religious discrimination.
Barr also promised that the Justice Department would be on the lookout for state or local government that “singles out, targets, or discriminates against any house of worship for special restrictions.”
Since that statement was issued, the department has intervened in cases of shutdown rules targeting churches and pastors in multiple states, including Nevada, California, Oklahoma, Illinois, Virginia and Mississippi.
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