On Tuesday, the Arizona House passed Majority Leader Ben Toma’s bill that will classify religious services as an essential service during a state of emergency. The bill was welcomed by those who were denied access to churches through an executive order issued by Governor Doug Ducey during COVID-19 pandemic.
Toma’s bill, HB2507, states “that the state government may not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization on the basis that the organization: a) is religious; b) operates or seeks to operate during a state of emergency; or c) engages in the exercise of religion as protected under the first amendment of the United States constitution.
AZ State Rep. Ben Toma discusses the tyranny going on in Canada as he speaks on his personal escape from Romania un https://t.co/KEIfNHfVwI
— James T Harris (@JamesTHarris) February 23, 2022
Ducey issued an executive order on March 23, 2020, classifying businesses or organizations considered essential services to include, but not limited to healthcare and public health, human services and certain infrastructure and government functions operations. Ducey’s order did not permit churches to open their doors because they were not considered essential. Ducey did not rescind the executive order until September 29, 2021.
Arizona remains under a state of emergency.
Under HB2507, the state must allow a religious organization to continue to engage in services to the same or greater extent than the government allows other organizations that provide essential services. It may also require a religious organization to comply with safety or occupancy requirements that apply to all organizations providing essential services.
The bill passed on a bipartisan vote.
However, Rep. Mitzi Epstein described the bill, which does not quite fill a half-page as “scary” because it fails to clearly define what a church is.
“On the surface,” said Epstein, “this seems like a great idea, but there is a lot more going on. I hope an amendment will make a difference because as it is, there are concerns that this bill might allow religious organizations, including corporations and their employees, to disregard all state and local laws that they claim either directly, or indirectly infringes on their religious practice. So this bill is far more dangerous because it goes beyond your local church, which we all love. But this bill would allow a corporation, any kind of organization, any person acting as one, to deny families adoption services, or deny LGBTQ persons employment, or discriminate against LGBTQ persons, or avoid liability for state Worker’s Compensation laws, and so there’s a lot involved in this and I hope that if it goes forward it is clarified exactly what the church is or what are religious services. It has way too many red flags.”
“Some of the objections from the left today were just nonsense.” said one religious liberty advocate who tracked the bill’s progress. “It is scary that our first amendment right to worship isn’t recognized or respected by some of these extremist legislators who pretend to love churches while making up reasons to help shut churches down and shut pastors and priests up.”
Toma, an immigrant who fled with his family from Romania, has been a vocal champion for religious freedom, and his supporters say that his knowledge about oppressive governments that deny people an opportunity to practice their faith, helps keep him a champion of that liberty in Arizona.