Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin took a giant step Sunday to protect the state’s houses of worship from discrimination during future emergencies.
Youngkin signed HB 2171, which stipulated that the state will not enact a “rule, regulation, or order” to restrict the functions of a house of worship that is “more restrictive than the restrictions imposed on any other business.”
As expected, Gov. Youngkin signed this law that will make it tougher to shut down houses of worship in future emergencies.https://t.co/gEBTmeQE5H
— Graham Moomaw (@gmoomaw) March 27, 2023
This issue exploded in Virginia after the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020. Then-Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam enraged many when he issued an executive order on March 24 placing numerous restrictions on public gatherings.
Part of his order was a temporary ban on public and private assemblies of 10 people or more. This included churches, which fell into the Democrat’s “non-essential” classification.
Joining houses of worship in this designation were restaurants, gyms, hair salons, and other businesses.
These overarching restrictions may have been received more positively if liquor stores were not deemed “essential.” Northam claimed that shuttering liquor stores would not diminish demand, but could prompt people to drive over state lines and promote “unregulated markets.”
Lost tax dollars, in other words.
The highly controversial executive order meant that violators could face up to 12 months in jail and a fine up to $2,500.
Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said when the future Republican governor saw Northam keeping the liquor stores’ lights on but closing churches, he “recognized that he did not share his values.”
As Democratic Sen. Chap Peterson of Fairfax noted after the measure passed the Senate 35-5, “at a minimum, we can certainly say they’re essential to a community.”
In his successful race to the governor’s mansion that shocked many national political observers, Youngkin stressed his opposition to his predecessor’s coronavirus lockdowns. He acted on these convictions soon after being sworn into office.
The new Virginia governor immediately signed executive orders banning school mask requirements and COVID vaccination mandates for state employees. The General Assembly followed suit last year, passing into law a measure to permit optional masking for school children.
The former governor’s misplaced priorities were not lost on Youngkin or Virginia voters. A wrong was corrected, and if and when there is another statewide emergency requiring drastic measures, houses of worship will not face discriminatory restrictions while liquor stores remain exempt.