State passes bill that would prohibit closing places of worship in 80-18 vote

Mary Margaret Olohan, DCNF

The Oklahoma House overwhelmingly passed a bill Wednesday that would ban the government from closing churches and places of worship in scenarios like the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Oklahoma Religious Freedom Act passed the state’s House of Representatives 80-18 and now heads to the state’s Senate.

“People came to this continent seeking religious freedom and to escape a tyrannical government, and our country’s founders had the wisdom to specifically outline the freedom to worship in one of our founding documents,” Oklahoma state Republican Rep. Brian Hill, who sponsored the bill, said Wednesday, KOCO 5 News reported.

“My faith, like many Oklahomans, is at the core of who I am, and this bill further protects our God-given right to worship,” Hill added. He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Daily Caller News Foundation.

The bill defines the phrase “substantially burden” to mean “to inhibit or curtail religiously motivated practice,” declaring that  closing places of worship is a substantial burden on Oklahoma citizens’ freedom of religion.

“This country was founded by individuals seeking freedom to worship in the manner they so choose without persecution,” Oklahoma state Republican Rep. Jon Echols said, KOCO 5 News reported. “I can think of nothing more patriotic than protecting those rights for future generations.”

At the beginning of the pandemic Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter promised Oklahomans in March 2020 that the state would not cancel church services at that time.

“If the situation were to ever become so dire that church services needed to be canceled by the government all other similarly-sized and situated gatherings would also need to be canceled as well,” Hunter said at the time, News On 6 reported.

The state ultimately issued an order banning groups of 10 or more people, which effectively curtailed religious services in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Republican Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, who reopened the state in June 2020, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the DCNF.

“Statewide mask mandates have done little to flatten the curve and keeping businesses locked down kills jobs and hurts the state long-term,” Stitt wrote in a Daily Caller op-ed. “That’s why Oklahoma has been open since last June and I’ve trusted Oklahomans over mask mandates.”

“In America, the standard for normal is freedom,” he added. “It always has been, and it always should be.”

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