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Bill preventing state from restricting church gatherings during emergencies passes TN Senate

The bill, HB 1137, would prohibit public officials from restricting religious gatherings and other religious activities during a state of emergency.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A bill that would prevent public leaders from imposing restrictions on churches and religious organizations during a state of emergency passed the Tennessee Senate Thursday with 24 'yes' votes and four 'no' votes.

The bill, HB 1137, would also prohibit county health officers from ordering churches and religious organizations not to gather in person, as a way to prevent an illness from spreading. It broadly says that health officers cannot issue orders that limit any religious organization's operations, including religious services or other religious activities.

The bill was introduced by Representative Rusty Grills (R - Newbern) in February 2021. Back then, it passed the House of Representatives with 70 'yes' votes and 18 'no' votes.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, several faith organizations moved to virtual services as health leaders passed restrictions on gatherings to prevent the coronavirus from spreading. Gradually, religious organizations and churches have returned to in-person services as the number of COVID-19 cases fell across the state.

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