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Richmond, Va., Jul 11, 2023 / 08:35 am (CNA).
A law to shield churches from discriminatory state regulation is officially in effect in Virginia, offering state residents what the bill’s sponsor called a “spectacular win” for religious freedom in the state.
The law, which amended the state code’s disaster regulations, stipulates that “no rule, regulation, or order issued by the governor or other governmental entity pursuant to this chapter shall impose restrictions on the operation of a place of worship that are more restrictive than the restrictions imposed on any other business, organization, or activity.”
The new provision stems from concerns during the COVID-19 crisis that churches were being subject to overly strict pandemic mitigation policies relative to other institutions and businesses.
Then-Gov. Ralph Northam, like most governors throughout the U.S. during the pandemic, had issued sweeping regulations governing worship rules and church capacity limits throughout the state. Critics said the Democratic governor’s rules for churches were too burdensome while rules covering institutions such as liquor stores were significantly more permissive.
Earlier in the year, upon its passage in the state Senate, bill sponsor Del. Wren Williams said in a press release that the protection represented “a spectacular win for the millions of churchgoing Christians and people of every faith all across Virginia.”
“I am amazed and humbled at this victory for religious freedom,” he said at the time, calling freedom of religion “a fundamental American right that is worth fighting for.”
The GOP-backed bill passed along bipartisan lines, moving through both the Republican-controlled state House and the Democratic-controlled Senate before being signed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin.