Monday, February 15, 2021

New Arkansas Law Limits COVID Restrictions On Religious Organizations

On Feb. 9, Arkansas Act 94 (Religion Is Essential Act) (full text) was signed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson and immediately went into effect. The new law provides that the Governor nor the State Board of Health

shall not prohibit or limit a religious organization from continuing to operate or engage in religious services during a disaster emergency under this subchapter.

The law however does permit requiring: 

religious organizations to comply with neutral health, safety, or occupancy requirements issued under state or federal law that are applicable to all organizations and businesses.

The law goes on to provide, however, that such requirements may not impose a substantial burden on a religious organization unless it is shown to be essential to further a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so.

"Religious organizations" are broadly defined in the new law to include houses of worship, religious educational institutions and religious leaders, among others.