State Rep. Kenneth Paschal (R-Pelham) has pre-filed legislation to protect religious institutions from being subjected to stricter public safety measures than non-religious organizations in the event of another public emergency.

The Alabama Legislature is scheduled to gavel in on Tuesday, where they will spend the following months debating and passing laws that affect the people of Alabama.

For Paschal, addressing remaining concerns from the COVID-19 era is on the top of his list.

In March 2020, Dr. Scott Harris, acting under his authority as Alabama's State Health Officer, issued orders to close all public beaches, senior citizen centers, and schools. He also prohibited restaurants and bars from serving on-site and banned gatherings of 25 people or more, including in places of worship.

While many in the state ignored the order, some churches closed down for an extended period, leading many to criticize the policies and the churches that followed them.

Paschal's House Bill 99 (HB99) declares that emergency management should impose the least restrictive burden on religious worship and activities, ensuring that religious institutions are not unfairly targeted with overly burdensome restrictions.

"This legislation will firmly establish the rights of religious institutions and prevent any form of discrimination against them during a state of emergency," Paschal said. "The provisions in this bill are designed to protect the fundamental rights of religious institutions while taking into account concerns regarding public health and safety."

As legal recourse in case of discriminatory actions, the bill grants religious institutions the ability to petition a civil court for intervention and pursue monetary damages for any violations they may experience.

"Before another state of emergency occurs, we must enshrine the rights of religious institutions and provide them rights, protections, and recourse," Paschal continued. "I have worked hard to ensure that my legislation finds a proper balance between legitimate public health and safety concerns and the unfettered freedom to practice religion that each of us are guaranteed as U.S. citizens under the Bill of Rights."

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