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Arkansas forbids the closing of churches “unless everything else is closed too”

A bill that limits the governor’s power to close churches and that broadens religious liberty protections for houses of worship became law in Arkansas this week.


The bill passed by overwhelming margins in the state House and Senate in the midst of a worldwide pandemic that saw governments force churches to close their doors.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said Wednesday he would allow the bill to become law without his signature. He defended his actions during the pandemic, saying they had not infringed on religious freedoms.

The new law applies to states of emergencies. It says the governor “shall not enforce a health, safety, or occupancy requirement” that “imposes a substantial burden on a religious organization” unless the governor “demonstrates that applying the requirement to the religious organization is essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering the compelling governmental interest.”

The legislature’s findings about the new law state that religion “provides extensive benefits to the country by meeting the spiritual needs of the populace and by supporting vital social needs, including without limitation social services, health care, and economic activity.”


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