Today’s email is a bit unique. Over the past eleven months, I’ve written to you about a number of topics, but not a policy issue. Arizona Capitol Project (ACP) is an initiative of Center for Arizona Policy, but ACP is not a policy initiative. As you’ve come to learn, we’re connecting shepherds of the Church with shepherds of the government. That remains our preeminent focus.

At the same time, we have a bill being heard before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday, February 10, beginning at 9:00 a.m., of importance to pastors that I want to share with you today. The bill is entitled the Religion is Essential Act (HB 2648). Click here to download a printable factsheet and here for a copy of the bill. The bill’s sponsor is House Majority Leader Rep. Ben Toma.

In summary, the Religion is Essential Act ensures that churches and other religious organizations receive equal treatment during a public crisis, allowing them to remain open on the same terms as other businesses and services that are deemed essential. It further protects religious organizations against government discrimination based upon the organizations’ religious identity or activities.

No doubt, you have seen municipal, county, and state governments across the country impose limitations on the opening of churches for public worship services during the COVID-19 pandemic. During last year’s Stay At Home order in Arizona, Gov. Ducey never formally closed places of worship.

HB 2648 establishes religious services as essential operations during a
public emergency and allows them to operate on equal terms as other
businesses or services declared essential. 

Mind you, as a matter of witness and loving our neighbor, many if not most churches went online for a period of time or at least practiced significant social distancing measures during the height of the pandemic.

Importantly, let me say HB 2648 is not a license for church leaders to be reckless. However, the bill does generally prohibit the government from discrimination against a religious organization because of its religious identity or practices, thus codifying two recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Throughout the pandemic, it rang true how religious organizations provide essential services that are vital to the health and welfare of the public – not only in meeting the spiritual needs of our populace, but also supporting social services, health care, and economic activity.

Request to Speak. I hope you might take a moment today and register your support for HB 2648 through the use of the Request to Speak (RTS) system:

RTS allows you to sign in on legislation. To do so, you must set up an account at the Capitol. You are not able to sign up remotely.

Our Team can set up your account at the Capitol. Then we will email you the instructions on next steps so that you could then support or oppose legislation remotely.

If you or anyone on your team would like to be part of RTS, please reply with your full name and the email address you wish to use on the system. We’ll get you signed up and you’ll be on your way.

Signing up for RTS does not require you to ever testify on a bill! But it does send a message to legislators where you stand on HB 2648.Finally, please pray with a number of pastors and me as we have 90 meeting invitations out to elected officials right now! This is our first step in our Shepherd-to-Shepherd relationships, and I am excited for what God is doing at the Capitol in 2021!

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