Bill introduced in Arkansas legislative session to exempt houses of worship from emergency order rules prohibiting operation

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LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – State Representative Mary Bentley has filed HB1211 which would makes houses of worship exempt from any emergency order rules that prohibit them from operation.  She felt the need to address it in Arkansas law, “I thought it was important that we clarify here in Arkansas that we believe like they do that First Amendment rights aren’t canceled by a pandemic.”

Greg Schick is an associate pastor with St. James United Methodist Church and he says it’s tough for churches right now who are imposing those guidelines, “The thing that churches do the best is gather together.”

Governor Asa Hutchinson has not mandated churches specifically but he has strongly urged them to abide by those social guidelines. Schick thinks the governor is doing the best he can to maintain balance between a Constitutional right and the public’s health and safety, “To try to let people decide for themselves, to govern themselves but then also to lean in strongly on suggestions for how it is we’re supposed to gather.”

St. James says they have been enforcing those mandates.  Social distancing, mask wearing, and recording of names have been standard practice there since they allowed people back into their church.  Unfortunately two months after that they shut their doors again, “It was nice to take those steps back but then we knew our responsibility was to be careful when that surge happened at the end of this past year,” Schick said.

Schick believes that many houses of worship would still follow guidelines even if told they did not have to, much like they are now.  He does believe in protecting the freedom of religion but he also thinks there’s a higher rule more people should abide by, “And that rule is to love your neighbor, that’s the rule is to love your neighbor and if I’m gonna care for and love my neighbor than I’m gonna want to not abuse that freedom but to be able to gather safely and perhaps maybe even not at all.”

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