Hern introduces Equal Opportunity First Amendment Act
Representative Kevin Hern (OK-01) introduced the Equal Opportunity First Amendment Act to the House last week. The bill addresses disparity between decisions made to ban certain First Amendment-protected activities under State of Emergency but not others.
“Most states have seen wildly varying interpretations of social distancing guidelines over the last several months,” said Rep. Hern. “In many instances, Americans are confused and horrified as their local government allows large gatherings of people exercising their First Amendment right to protest but bans church services. In many communities, businesses and shopping malls are open but houses of worship still have a 10-person limit. These inconsistent ordinances are disproportionately harming communities of faith. If the First Amendment protects protesters, it protects worshippers as well. My bill ensures that our First Amendment rights are evenly interpreted by local governments and provides a legal course of action for individuals whose rights are violated.”
Twenty-two original co-sponsors joined Rep. Hern on this bill:
Rep. Jim Banks (IN-03)
The bill text can be found here.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, protesters across the country have been allowed to exercise their First Amendment right to assemble and protest, but most churches have been restricted from assembly and services. Certain local and state governments have enforced disproportionate strict social distancing guidelines to different cases in violation of individuals’ First Amendment rights.
For example, in Indiana, there was a 25-person cap placed on congregants at outdoor religious services, but the cap was not extended on gatherings in shopping malls, essential businesses, non-essential retail, or other outdoor business settings.
In Minnesota, retailers and small businesses were allowed to operate at 50% capacity, but religious organizations were limited to 10-person gatherings.
The Equal Opportunity First Amendment Act states that if a State issues an order limiting gatherings to a certain number of people in response to a national emergency, then the State cannot discriminate against other residents who choose to exercise their First Amendment rights. However, should the State discriminate, residents may pursue a private right of action.