La. voters to decide on constitutional amendment to make worship a “fundamental right”

Louisiana voters will get a chance next month to decide on one of the biggest pandemic controversies.
Published: Sep. 25, 2023 at 10:57 PM CDT
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BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Louisiana voters will get a chance next month to decide on one of the biggest pandemic controversies.

Amendment 2 on the upcoming ballot would declare the highest level of constitutional protection for the freedom to worship in a church or another place of worship, requiring courts to apply the strictest level of judicial review to challenges when government bodies restrict access.

If the amendment passes, the state government cannot shut down churches during times of emergencies. Instead, that choice would be left up to individual congregations.

During the height of the COVID pandemic when Gov. Edwards issued an emergency order to restrict all public gatherings statewide, including church services, Pastor Tony Spell made headlines when he refused to close his doors.

His legal battle made it to the Supreme Court, and now a potential change to the state’s constitution.

“It’s going prohibit anybody from closing churches in the state of Louisiana again,” said Spell. “You have the choice to stay home, you have the choice to come to church, but the Governor should’ve never had the ability and the power to say you cannot go.”

However, opponents believe that kind of decision should always rest with the governor as a means of public safety.

WAFB political analyst Jim Engster explained why some are pushing for people to vote no on the ballot.

“Worst case scenario, it would tie the hands of future governors in a crisis,” said Engster.

Engster said those same people are fighting for the new and future state leadership.

“We don’t really want our leaders to be hamstrung by laws that might not be wisest for the people,” said Engster.

Spell said he is prepared to accept any consequences that might come with the possible amendment.

“We’re willing to take any responsibility for any outbreaks,” said Spell. “Just give us the freedom that the constitution protects, and that’s endowed to us.”

Engster said the chances of another shutdown are slim, so we may never see this amendment in action, but he still called the vote important.

“I think this is more window dressing than anything else, but people are trying to make a statement and if this passes, certainly a statement will be made,” said Engster.

Election day is October 14th.

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