South Carolina Gov. Henry McMasters (R) has signed a law declaring houses of worship “essential services” that can remain open during times of emergencies.
Legislation like this surfaced in several states in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. In the early days of the pandemic, governors in several states issued stay-at-home orders to limit large gatherings in the hope of curtailing the spread of the virus. Essential services such as grocery stores were allowed to remain open, but religious services and secular events such as movies, plays and lectures were curtailed.
Conservative legal groups fought the orders in court. They were unsuccessful at first when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the closure orders. But the dynamic on the high court changed after the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in September 2020. Ginsburg’s replacement, Amy Coney Barrett, sided with the churches.