On March 26, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, signed HB 2171 into law. This new statute ensures that houses of worship are not subject to unequal restrictions compared to those placed on other businesses, organizations, and activities in the commonwealth of Virginia.
In sharp contrast to the limit of 10 people imposed on “nonessential” gatherings such as churches by then-Gov. Ralph Northam during the COVID-19 pandemic, the new statute aims to ensure that all businesses, religious and nonreligious alike, will be subject to the same restrictions should a future emergency arise.
Republican state Sen. Mark Peake of Lynchburg applauded the legislation.
“During COVID, you could go to a state store and buy liquor, but you could not go to church. This bill means the governor’s not gonna open liquor stores and close churches.” Peake said.
Citing the First Amendment, the original bill from Virginia’s Republican-led House of Delegates would have exempted places of worship entirely from bowing to emergency power rules and regulations.
“No rule, regulation, or order issued by the Governor or other governmental entity pursuant to the Commonwealth of Virginia Emergency Services and Disaster Law shall apply to the exercise of religion in a church, synagogue, or other place of worship.”
However, the bill’s sponsor, Del. Wren Williams, a Republican, moderated the original language to include equal restrictions for businesses, giving it a greater chance of passing the Democrat-controlled Senate.
The tactic appears to have paid off.
Cruising through the Senate by a healthy margin of 35-5 and with Youngkin’s signature, the bill signals Republicans’ continued opposition to COVID-19 restrictions.
In a 2022 announcement for reviewing COVID-19-related fines and penalties, Youngkin resolved to reign in government control.
“While we can’t undo the damage done during the Northam administration, we are taking action going forward to end COVID-era draconian overreach,” he said.
During his candidacy, Youngkin proclaimed his commitment to defend the First Amendment in a Twitter bout with Democrat contender Terry McAuliffe.
“As governor, I will use every ounce of authority I have to protect Virginians’ First Amendment right to freely live out their faith.”
The new statute is already receiving praise from Christians in the Old Dominion.
David Schrock, a pastor at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia, described the legislation as a “breath of fresh air.”
“During 2020, when Governor Northam issued emergency measures, countless Christians suffered loneliness, depression, and other spiritual and mental challenges,” he said.
“Thankfully,” Schrock continued, “with Governor Youngkin signing HB 2171 into law, the Commonwealth of Virginia will take one step towards greater religious liberty, which in turn blesses and benefits the lives of countless Virginians. In times of emergency, the state needs to see that churches are vital for the life and health for Virginians, and so I give thanks to God for the passage of this bill and for elected officials who take seriously the place of churches in our nation.”
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