Gov. Kemp says state shouldn’t be able to close down houses of worship, even during pandemics

Governor wants to limit powers to shut down houses of worship during a pandemic

GEORGIA — Governor Brian Kemp wants to limit how he, and any future governor, can use the emergency powers granted him by the legislature to handle the pandemic so they could not be used to close down houses of worship.

In an exclusive one-on-one interview with Channel 2′s Richard Elliot, Gov. Kemp pointed out that even in the darkest days of the pandemic, he never ordered houses of worship to close, though he did urge them to limit the size of their in-person services or to go to online services. Invoking emergency powers to close their doors would infringe upon the First Amendment right to freedom of religion, according to Gov. Kemp.

“We’ve seen other governors across the country take away that fundamental Constitutional right of freedom of religion in our churches,” Kemp said. “This will prevent that now and in the future.”

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Called the Faith Protection Act, the legislation would prevent future governors, even well-intentioned ones, from invoking emergency powers to close down churches, mosques and synagogues even during a global pandemic.

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Early in the pandemic, state troopers cited a Statesboro church after churchgoers twice refused to comply with the governor’s shelter-in-place order. Still, Kemp pointed out he never shut them down, just wished they had exercised more common sense when gathering together.

“We also know that people are going to push the limits of the law, of executive orders and other things, and unfortunately, that was the case down there,” Kemp said.

Stone Mountain Democratic State Rep. Billy Mitchell supported the governor’s proposal, in part because he worried about any governor’s use of executive powers.

“I do believe there should be some be a limit to any government and their intrusion into public life,” Mitchell said. “I think that the warnings that the CDC gives out, the advisories, certainly the admonishments that government can give is sufficient. But I think person freedoms and the limitations on that as to government intrusion is appropriate.”

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