CV NEWS FEED // The Wisconsin State Senate approved a constitutional amendment that would permanently prevent the government-ordered closure of churches during a public health “state of emergency.”
No Democrats voted for the SJR 54, and no Republicans voted against it. Two senators did not vote: one Democrat and one Republican.
According to its text, the amendment
provides that the state or a political subdivision of the state may not order the closure of or forbid gatherings in places of worship in response to a state of emergency at the national, state, or local level, including an emergency related to public health.
If the amendment is added to the state constitution, it would also prevent government agencies from forcibly limiting the size of services held in churches in other places of worship.
Per the Associated Press (AP), “Amendments to the Wisconsin Constitution must be passed by two consecutive sessions of the Legislature and then ratified by voters in a statewide election.”
Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers locked the state down in 2020, issuing what his administration called a “safer at home order.”
“All individuals present within the State of Wisconsin are ordered to stay at home or at their place of residence, with exceptions outlined below,” decreed Evers’ then-Health Secretary Andrea Palm in the order dated April 24, 2020 – well over a month after “15 Days to Slow the Spread” was announced.
The Evers administration provided exceptions for “essential activities,” “essential government functions,” “essential businesses and operations,” “minimum basic operations,” “essential travel,” and “special situations.”
Controversially, the order considered businesses that served alcoholic beverages “essential” and allowed them to remain open. Meanwhile, the order effectively prohibited the celebration Holy Mass and most other church services.
“Religious facilities, entities, groups, and gatherings, and weddings and funerals, except that any gathering shall include fewer than 10 people in a room or confined space at a time,” Palm wrote.
The order made no other mention of churches and places of worship.
Palm is now the Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the Biden Administration, serving under HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra.
The AP noted that the “then-conservative-leaning state Supreme Court struck down Evers’ order, but Republicans introduced [SJR 54] to ensure similar orders cannot be issued in the future.”
In 2021, the governor vetoed multiple bills passed by the Republican-controlled state legislature that would have prevented government entities from closing churches during a time of “emergency.”
However, since SJR 54 is proposed as a constitutional amendment, Evers cannot veto it.
The Catholic Accountability Project’s new and ongoing report series “COVID and the Catholic Church” has pointed out that in addition to government-ordered church closures, “Catholic bishops uniformly suspended the public celebration of Mass throughout the US ‘for the safety of all.’”
“Exact closure dates varied, but public worship was suspended nationwide by March 23, 2020,” the report states.
In a May 2023 opinion, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch commented on the shutting down of places of worship during the COVID lockdowns.
“They closed churches even as they allowed casinos and other favored businesses to carry on,” the justice wrote. “They threatened violators not just with civil penalties but with criminal sanctions too.”
“They surveilled church parking lots, recorded license plates, and issued notices warning that attendance at even outdoor services satisfying all state social-distancing and hygiene requirements could amount to criminal conduct,” he added.
Readers can find CatholicVote’s COVID report here.
The post Wisconsin Senate Okays Amendment Banning Church Closures for ‘Crises’ Like COVID appeared first on CatholicVote org.
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