State Rep. Jim Walsh, R-Aberdeen, introduced a bill on Thursday that would limit the governor’s authority to close religious institutions during states of emergency.
The bill, House Bill 1154, would give religious institutions protections from what Walsh called “unconstitutional attacks” during states of emergency.
"Over the past three years, the executive branch abused the emergency powers the people of Washington granted that office. Among the most egregious were efforts to close churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions during the early months of the COVID outbreak,” Walsh said in a statement.
Walsh said he had heard from many Washington residents who complained about liquor and cannabis stores remaining open even as churches had to be closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He added the restrictions on religious institutions, which he referred to as “unconstitutional edicts,” largely failed because people refused to follow them.
"Freedom of religion and freedom of conscience are the most precious rights that free people have. They are protected in principle by our constitutions, the highest laws in the land. But they also must be protected in practice. Overreaching politicians and their bureaucratic agents must never order churches closed and dictate how many people can worship or how a minister, rabbi, imam, or church conducts their services,” Walsh said. "Such restrictions violate the core values of the United States and of Washington state. My bill restates that fact with clarity and precision. I look forward to gathering broad, bipartisan support for this proposal."
The 2023 Washington legislative session kicked off on Monday.
Democrats hold control of the Legislature.