Gov. Brian Kemp, R, last week introduced the “Faith Protection Act,” which would prevent Georgia governors from using their emergency powers to place limits on religious gatherings.
Kemp has shown more restraint in the use of his emergency powers during COVID-19 than many other governors. Now, he wants to ensure that future Georgia governors follow his lead.
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, people of all faiths across America were told by state governments how, where, when, or even if they could worship at all. Not in Georgia. We chose to work alongside congregations across our state to ensure they practiced their faith safely and in accordance with public health guidance,” Kemp said.
“The Faith Protection Act will ensure the emergency powers of any governor of Georgia in the years to come are not used to limit the God-given right to worship. In Georgia, we never shuttered churches, synagogues, or other places of worship because we value faith, family, and freedom. With the Faith Protection Act signed into law, Georgia will be a sanctuary state for people of faith.”
Kemp made the choice not to prohibit congregations from gathering but he instead worked with religious leaders, instructing them to socially distance and take other precautions. Many congregations respected the governor’s order and did their part to socially distance at worship services, although some did not.
Rather than immediately attacking churches in response, Kemp spoke with more than 800 clergy members and reiterated the importance of following the requirement to socially distance, reminding them that without their voluntary cooperation, the state could possibly shut them down.
Those shutdowns never happened because Kemp and religious leaders took a different approach: cooperation.
It isn’t just Kemp who is trying to restrict a governor’s emergency powers, however. At the beginning of the COVID-19 crisis, Kemp was granted broad emergency powers, and as Georgia law allows, unilaterally extended those powers more than once.
Georgia House Science and Technology Chairman Republican Ed Setzler has proposed another bill that would require the legislature to approve any extension of a governor’s emergency powers. Setzler claims that his proposal is not in response to how Kemp used his emergency powers, but due to the potential risks of abuse.
“The broader issue is what legislative oversight and what legislative involvement there is in the terms of the duration of an emergency power declaration and how legislators might be able to prescribe a more limited scope for a more limited emergency,” Setzler said.
While COVID-19 has presented a unique and uncertain challenge to leaders, Gov. Kemp has maintained the importance of the freedom to practice one’s religion. Cooperation rather than authoritarianism should be a leader’s first response to civil liberties, while enacting the least restrictive measures possible.
Christians should respond with grace and submit to the authority of government leaders such as Kemp who try to work with churches to help them stay open, as many churches did.
The Standing for Freedom Center believes that the Church is essential as is our freedom to practice our faith without government infringement. It is encouraging to see that Gov. Kemp believes the same.