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Victory for Freedom: Unexpected State Declares Churches Will Never Close Again

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The “Live Free or Die” state struck a blow for religious liberty Tuesday as Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill designating churches as essential services.

The Associated Press reported that HB 542 “allows such religious organizations to operate to the same degree as essential businesses during a state of emergency.”

The legislation specifies, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the state government from requiring religious organizations to comply with neutral health, safety, or occupancy requirements issued by the state or federal government that are applicable to all organizations and businesses that provide essential services.”

So in other words, churches get equal protection under the law, which is what the U.S. Constitution requires.

The religious liberty legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom praised Sununu and the New Hampshire legislature for the new law.

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“Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment. While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating houses of worship and religious organizations worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms,” ADF attorney Greg Chafuen said in a statement.

“This bill makes it clear that officials cannot use a public crisis to discriminate against religious operations without violating the Constitution,” he added.

It’s great to see this proactive move by New Hampshire, right in the heart of New England, which of course isn’t exactly the Bible Belt, but does have a history of standing for liberty going back a couple of hundred years.

The U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the subject of COVID church shutdowns in a pair of California cases earlier this year.

Do you think other states should follow New Hampshire's lead?

In July 2020, Harvest Rock Church senior pastor Ché Ahn disregarded an order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom that shut down over 90 percent of indoor worship services in the state.

The Pasadena-based church also sued the governor and the state, arguing the congregation’s First Amendment rights were being violated. The cases eventually wound their way up to the Supreme Court.

“As a pastor, I believe we have been essential for 2,000 years,” Ahn told KCBS-TV.

“No one’s above the Constitution, no one’s above the law,” he said during a Sunday worship service after making the decision to sue, and he also called on his congregation to pray that the church would win its court case.

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In February, the court ruled 6-3 in Harvest Rock’s favor, but left a 25 percent attendance limit and ban on singing in place.

In April, however, Newsom lifted the attendance limits and the singing ban following another Supreme Court decision striking down his ban on in-home religious meetings.

The court said, in a 5-4 ruling, “California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise, permitting hair salons, retail stores, personal care services, movie theaters, private suites at sporting events and concerts, and indoor restaurants to bring together more than three households at a time.”

Finally, in May, Newsom and the state of California entered into a settlement agreement with Harvest Rock Church barring the state from placing any pandemic restrictions on worship services that are more severe than ones imposed on other gatherings.

“According to the permanent injunction, churches and places of worship may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of ‘critical infrastructure’ or ‘essential services’ as outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the settlement,” CBN News reported.

The Supreme Court got it right, and now the state of New Hampshire has codified the right decision into law.

Religious liberty is winning the day, which is something worth celebrating.

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Randy DeSoto has written more than 1,000 articles for The Western Journal since he joined the company in 2015. He is a graduate of West Point and Regent University School of Law. He is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths" and screenwriter of the political documentary "I Want Your Money."
Randy DeSoto is the senior staff writer for The Western Journal. He wrote and was the assistant producer of the documentary film "I Want Your Money" about the perils of Big Government, comparing the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama. Randy is the author of the book "We Hold These Truths," which addresses how leaders have appealed to beliefs found in the Declaration of Independence at defining moments in our nation's history. He has been published in several political sites and newspapers.

Randy graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point with a BS in political science and Regent University School of Law with a juris doctorate.
Birthplace
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Nationality
American
Honors/Awards
Graduated dean's list from West Point
Education
United States Military Academy at West Point, Regent University School of Law
Books Written
We Hold These Truths
Professional Memberships
Virginia and Pennsylvania state bars
Location
Phoenix, Arizona
Languages Spoken
English
Topics of Expertise
Politics, Entertainment, Faith




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