WASHINGTON — Florida Sen. Rick Scott recently presented a resolution supporting the rights of houses of worship and the free exercise of religion during the COVID pandemic, but his effort was blocked by a Democratic senator who objected to the language of the statement, asserting that it is “replete with inaccuracies.”
Scott’s resolution had been supported by fellow Sens. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Tom Cotton of Arkansas, Ted Cruz of Texas, Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, James Lankford of Oklahoma, David Perdue of Georgia, and Mike Braun of Indiana, among others.
“[T]he First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States clearly, plainly, and unequivocally states that ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,'” it reads. “[T]he constitutional protection of this bedrock principle of religious liberty was extended to the actions of the several States through the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.”
The resolution then focuses in on concerns surrounding restrictions and regulations on in-person, indoor worship gatherings during the COVID pandemic.
“[D]espite the clear prohibition against laws infringing upon the free exercise of religion, houses of worship and religious organizations have been frequent targets of asymmetric restrictions by state and local government officials during the coronavirus pandemic,” it states.
The resolution notes that “irrespective of compliance with mask mandates, social distancing, and other protective measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus, houses of worship and religious organizations have been subjected to size restrictions or outright bans on in-person gatherings which severely infringe upon the right of their members to freely exercise their religion.”
Meanwhile, secular facilities were not subjected to the same restrictions, including liquor stores, marijuana dispensaries, casinos and shopping centers, Scott’s resolution argues.
It points to a number of states that have made headlines due to their controversial — and seemingly unequal — restrictions, including actions taken by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak.
“[T]he United States Supreme Court recently granted injunctive relief to two houses of worship in New York against the discriminatory actions by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, and declared ‘even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten,'” the resolution reads.
It notes that houses of worship are more than just buildings to people of faith but tangible locations for people to gather together.
“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the Senate affirms its support for the rights, liberties, and protections enshrined in the United States Constitution and commits to vigorously defend the right of all people of the United States to engage in the free exercise of religion,” the resolution concludes.
Scott sought to obtain unanimous consent to move forward with his resolution in the Senate on Saturday, but Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., expressed objection to the text, asserting that it “misrepresents” what is happening — at least in the state of New Jersey.
“You cannot suggest somehow that these purposes are to target religions. They’re out to save lives,” Menendez said on the Senate floor. “I find it really, really upsetting that in the midst of a raging pandemic one would seek to obtain the political value out of something that is simply not the case.”
Scott then offered to remove the text regarding the state of New Jersey and asked if Menendez would subsequently be willing to support the resolution with the omission.
“The resolution is replete with inaccuracies, and therefore, I will continue to object,” Menendez replied.
View the exchange below.
Scott later remarked in a press release that he finds Menendez’ objection, which prevented the resolution from moving forward, to be “shameful.”
“We’ve seen liberal governors and mayors across the nation go after religious institutions throughout the pandemic, so my resolution simply reaffirms the right to freely practice religion. It is absolutely shameful that Senator Menendez would not only lie about what is happening in his state, but also refuse to stand with houses of worship, who are entitled to the Constitutional right to freely exercise their religion, by blocking my resolution today,” he said.
“I take my oath of office seriously, and I urge each of my colleagues to do the same.”
Religious liberties organizations, such as Alliance Defending Freedom and the Family Research Council, had supported the resolution.