HARRISBURG – Rep. Clint Owlett’s (R-Tioga/Bradford/Potter) bill that would strengthen the Religious Freedom Protection Act has passed the House by a vote of 149-53. The bill would ensure the religious freedoms of Pennsylvanians of all faiths are protected during times of emergency declarations.
“Yes, we are facing an unprecedented pandemic, and we must take steps to protect people’s health and safety. But what about their spiritual health? What about their mental health?” Owlett asked. “Our houses of worship and faith have played a key role in helping our communities through the most challenging of situations. They are literally the hospitals for our spiritual and mental health.”
Owlett praised the state’s religious institutions for making modifications, such as virtual services, to continue to meet the needs of their members in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. But he believes the changes should not have come from fear or questioning if exercising their constitutional right was “okay” with the governor.
“Here in the Commonwealth it’s always been perfectly ‘okay’ to worship as you see fit. It does not need to be okayed by the governor or secretary of Health, regardless of what emergency declaration may be in place,” he said. “Rather than issuing orders, I’m sure our church leaders would welcome reliable data to help them make the best decisions for how to assemble – or not assemble – their congregations in times of emergency.”
House Bill 2530
would amend the 2002 Religious Freedom Protection Act to state that no order issued during an emergency, or control measure issued under the Disease Prevention and Control Law, may impact the free exercise of religion in the Commonwealth.
“Our right to religious freedom does not go away in this disaster declaration, or any future declaration,” Owlett said. “With this language added to our Religious Freedom Protection Act,
this administration, or any future administration that gets the idea to try and restrict our religious freedoms, will certainly think twice.”
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.
Representative Clint Owlett
68th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives