Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has signed a bill into law that restricts local and state officials from closing churches or other houses of worship and from changing election dates.
Pushed by Republican lawmakers, House Bill 272 prohibits a public official from ordering the closure of all places of worship in a geographic area and changing the time, place, or manner of conducting an election, except in certain circumstances.
The law will take effect in mid-December, according to Cleveland.com. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney said that the governor agreed to enact the law curbing his own power to close churches because he never even contemplated taking such a step.
DeWine has been criticized for postponing the state’s March 17 primary election due to COVID-19 fears at the time.
Tierney said DeWine doesn’t want to change the election dates again, as state officials instead have to prepare for a potential rise in the number of novel coronavirus cases around the voting.
The new legislation states that “no public official shall cause an election to be conducted other than in the time, place, and manner prescribed by the Revised Code.”
“At that stage, remember, the pandemic was emerging in March, and the situation on the ground changed very rapidly and unexpectedly,” Tierney was quoted as saying. “That was certainly a unique situation.”
The spokesperson added, “Moving forward, the virus will not have the element of surprise.”
DeWine has also been criticized for discouraging churches from holding in-person services, although he never passed such orders.
“It just seems to me to be a huge mistake for any pastor of any church to bring people together tomorrow or any other day,” DeWine said in late March, according to WCMH. “This is a critical period of time and it’s not just for the safety of the people in your congregation. Frankly, it’s for the safety of their friends, their neighbors and total strangers. So I just can’t imagine that anyone would want to take that risk.”
Several states have restrictions in place on religious gatherings, which have led to legal battles for the religious freedom of churches and other houses of worship.
In California, several churches are fighting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19 orders banning indoor services.
In an earlier statement, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver called Newsom’s orders “unconstitutional.”
“… Gov. Newsom supports tens of thousands of protestors, saying ‘God bless you. Keep doing it.’ This is wrong, and the governor’s unconstitutional hostility and discrimination against religious worship must end,” he said.