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Lawmaker wants to issue new protections to churches

"Essentially if you're going to close churches and leave abortion clinics and casinos open,...
"Essentially if you're going to close churches and leave abortion clinics and casinos open, we're going to say that may not be a particularly good idea," said Rep. Seabaugh.(WAFB)
Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 7:09 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - State Rep. Alan Seabaugh, R-Shreveport, wants to give churches more protection with a bill he presented at the Louisiana State Capitol on Monday, April 25.

Apart from what Gov. John Bel Edwards called essential businesses, almost everyone was asked to close their doors during the beginning phases of the pandemic.

Seabaugh said when it comes to churches, that should never be allowed to happen again. Once COVID spread to Louisiana, Gov. Edwards and the Department of Health almost immediately issued a public health emergency, effectively asking almost everyone to temporarily close their doors.

“Essentially, if you’re going to close churches and leave abortion clinics and casinos open, we’re going to say that may not be a particularly good idea,” said Seabaugh.

He wants to make it clear, with his bill, that if another public health emergency comes around, churches will be left open as much as possible.

“If you’re going to draw a line, the churches should be treated no worse than the least restrictive measure that you put on other secular businesses,” continued Seabaugh.

Even while under Phase 1, stores like Walmart and Home Depot were considered essential and were allowed to remain open to a certain degree. Essentially, HB 953 would allow churches to hold in-person gatherings during a public health emergency as long as stores like Walmart are allowed to remain open, even if at a limited capacity.

A bill like this could have spared Life Tabernacle Church Pastor Tony Spell from his legal battles. Spell repeatedly defied the governor’s orders, holding services at his church with more than 10 people in attendance, leading to an arrest, multiple citations, and a number of court appearances.

“He says all these people behind me are lawbreakers, and we’re not,” said Spell outside of the 19th JDC back in 2021. “The lawbreakers are right over there in the governor’s mansion.”

But the governor’s staff provided the statement on Monday.

“Initially, the size of gatherings was limited based on the science and data concerning the transmission of the virus. The governor worked closely with faith leaders throughout the pandemic, and all were encouraged to hold services as safely as possible to protect their congregations.”

The bill passed unanimously and awaits further debate on the House floor.

WAFB also reached out to the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. The agency said it is not taking a position on the proposal just yet. Instead, it wants to wait to see how the bill makes its way through the legislature.

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