ATLANTA — Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp endorsed legislation Thursday that would bar future governors from limiting in-person religious services during a public health emergency.
The bill, crafted amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, would ensure that emergency powers granted to the governor for any reason could not be used “to specifically limit the practice of any religion.”
“The Faith Protection Act will ensure the emergency powers of any governor of Georgia in the years to come are not used to limit the God-given right to worship,” Kemp said in a statement.
When the pandemic began last spring, Kemp allowed houses of worship to remain open so long as congregants maintained social distancing — even though some of the state’s earliest outbreaks were linked to religious services. Kemp instead sought to work with religious leaders to promote alternative methods of meeting such as online or drive-up services.
Even that policy, which was fairly permissive compared to some other states, led to issues.
In April, a pastor in Statesboro was cited on a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct after police repeatedly found congregants at the Church of God the Bibleway not following social distancing guidelines.
Another bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Setzler, a Republican from Acworth, also seeks to place limits on a governor’s emergency powers.
House Bill 358, which is being debated in a House subcommittee, would require that the state legislature renew a state of emergency every 90 days and would allow legislators to place limitations on a governor’s emergency powers.