On Wednesday September 16, 2020, Ohio governor Mike DeWine signed House Bill 272 into law that prohibits any public officials like himself from having the authority to close houses of worship within the state, including particular parts of the state.
Governor DeWine has not ordered churches to close during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, during the beginning of Ohio’s stay-at-home order in March, DeWine did say, “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.” Encouraging other alternatives than holding in-person gatherings, DeWine made it clear that he would not infringe on a person’s religious liberty by telling a church they were forbidden to meet.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, the only policy churches are required to follow is the state’s mask mandate. The Ohio Christian Alliance has requested that Governor DeWine allow church-goers to be exempt from having to wear a mask while gathering together to worship.
State Senator Terry Johnson (R-McDermott) said, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen several states encroach on Americans’ First Amendment right of worship and assembly, disregarding it completely by forcing the closure of places of worship and religious institutions.” The state senator continued, “While I am thankful that no such order was imposed in Ohio, this amendment is a preemptive step should we ever find ourselves in this situation again.”
Other states like California have ordered houses of worship to not meet indoors due to the COVID-19 spread. Governor Newsom and the State of California recently went to court with Grace Community Church (pastored by John MacArthur), and ordered them to stop meeting indoors for worship or they’d face consequences. Pastor MacArthur recited the list of requirements they had to adhere to for them to be able to worship outdoors and said, “You can see that these are the requirements that would completely shut the church down.”
North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, has received over $100,000 in fines because of holding indoor worship services. The church’s pastor Jack Trieber recently decided to drop the church’s legal battle against Santa Clara and moved their worship gatherings outside. Trieber said, “After a great deal of prayer, of fasting, of counsel, I have felt led of God not to resist the lawsuit. There is a battle to fight, but I want to clearly tell you how I know as your pastor God wants me to fight it. Many of you will not agree with my decision. God is going to have to work on that in your heart.”
Governor DeWine experienced a false-positive coronavirus test in August hours before a scheduled meeting with President Trump in Cleveland, Ohio. As of this report, the state of Ohio has had 134,992 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and 4,312 deaths, according to the Ohio Department of Health.