New Hampshire state struck a blow for religious liberty Tuesday as Republican Gov. Chris Sununu signed a bill designating churches as essential services.

The Associated Press reported that HB 542 “allows such religious organizations to operate to the same degree as essential businesses during a state of emergency.”

The legislation notes, “Nothing in this section shall prohibit the state government from requiring religious organizations to comply with neutral health, safety, or occupancy requirements issued by the state or federal government that are applicable to all organizations and businesses that provide essential services.”

Supporters argued it wasn’t fair to shut down churches during the first few months of the coronavirus pandemic while hardware and liquor stores remained open. Many religious organizations held services online during that time.

The religious liberty legal advocacy group Alliance Defending Freedom praised Sununu and the New Hampshire legislature for the new law.

“Houses of worship and religious organizations provide soul-sustaining operations that are essential to our society and protected by the First Amendment. While public officials have the authority and responsibility to protect public health and safety, the First Amendment prohibits the government from treating houses of worship and religious organizations worse than shopping centers, restaurants, or gyms,” ADF attorney Greg Chafuen said in a statement.

“This bill makes it clear that officials cannot use a public crisis to discriminate against religious operations without violating the Constitution,” he added.

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