As we all know, some states are more likely to allow the trampling of certain constitutional rights than others. Due to their liberal leadership, states such as California, Oregon, Minnesota, and most of those in what is considered New England all seemed to get extremely caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic and fears of widespread infection and death.
As such, most of these immediately implemented emergency laws that shut down all “non-essential” businesses and even some that were essential. Mask mandates were instituted, social distancing was required, and life as we knew it was forever changed.
However, as time and technology, including the much controversial vaccines, have brought up out of the worst of the pandemic, most states have allowed those laws to fall by the wayside. Hair salons and gyms were permitted to reopen, masks were no longer required, and the mixing of one or more households became common again.
The same, however, cannot be said for churches and places of worship.
In states like California, New York, and Michigan, these were still prohibited from opening. And if they were open, without masks, or over the population limits set by state or local leaders, the consequences were heavy. In fact, in California, changes to COVID mandates for religious liberty were not changed until lawsuits brought to court ordered them to be.
Luckily, and somewhat surprisingly, the state of New Hampshire has not had to undergo such awful treatment to their religious freedoms – and thanks to a new law, they will never will.
According to The Associated Press, the “Live Free or Die” state just passed a law forbidding religious freedoms from ever being trampled on again, at least when compared to rights of any other “essential business.” Republican Governor Chris Sununu signed the bill into law on Tuesday.
HB 542 states that “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.”
Now, while this means that the state and federal governments most certainly do have a right to require places of worship to follow health guidelines and such, they can only do so by treating them no differently than any other business or service.
Basically, it makes them equal, which is what the US Constitution says they are. Furthermore, it concretely establishes that religious services and houses of worship are, in fact, essential.
Now, I don’t think anyone would be shocked to see this kind of legislative action taken in long-time Republican-held states like Texas, Montana, or Florida. But in New Hampshire? In the heart of New England and surrounded by states like Vermont, where socialist Bernie Sanders resides, and Massachusetts, where Elizabeth Warren comes from?
I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.
Then again, I would hope a state that has been around for as long as New Hampshire has and as such has a reputation for defending liberty would find at least some small way of holding on to that legacy.
Churchgoers and religious participants in places like California were not so lucky over the last year, having to fight for every inch of their First Amendment rights tooth and nail.
Their liberal governor made sure every church door was closed to parishioners for as long as possible. Even after bars, restaurants, hair salons, and gyms were allowed to reopen and begin business as usual, places of worship were kept shuttered.
It wasn’t until the Supreme Court heard a case in favor of the First Amendment in February that churches were allowed to open, and then a 25 percent occupancy limit was still required and, of course, masks.
In April, just three months ago, those attendance limits, as well as the singing ban, were lifted in the state – again only after another suit was filed against the state and governor and the Supreme Court got involved. But it wasn’t until May that the state of California actually agreed to abide by giving churches their freedom back.
Thankfully, few states have had such a miserable experience. I hope that all state legislatures see the benefits of giving their citizens freedom of religion and pass laws similar to that of New Hampshire.