FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WFFT) -- At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, religious organizations shut their doors and shifted online, wanting to keep people safe while still practicing their faith.
However, with precautions in place, many people are heading back.
The Very Rev. Mark Gurtner, Vicar General with the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese says Indiana Senate Bill 263 is something he’s happy about.
"I think it’s a good thing that churches aren’t unjustly given restrictions more than other essential businesses. On the other hand, The Church is happy to cooperate with local and state health officials to make sure that everyone is safe," Gurtner said.
The bill says state and local government leaders have to allow for religious activities to take place under the same reasonable guidelines as other essential businesses, like grocery stores and pharmacies.
Republican State Senator Liz Brown, who helped author the bill says religious services were deemed non-essential in the beginning and limiting their ability to provide their service is against the principles our country was founded on.
"We certainly think that you can’t treat someone's faith less than buying eggs and milk at the grocery store, which is what is happening," Brown said.
When opening back up, churches would be allowed to operate at any capacity laid out for essential businesses of similar size, and would be allowed to enforce or not enforce mask-wearing, which is something the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese is enforcing.
Many religious groups have been back in person for a while, with proper precautions in place, and Gurtner says a bill like this is all about balance between listening to the science and the need of people.
"At the beginning of this, you know, I think we went overboard, but we didn’t know what we didn’t know," Gurtner explained. "So, now we know that we could have been in person with a lot of precautions where at the beginning we thought we had to completely shut down, and it probably turned out that that’s not the case."
Senate Bill 263 has made it through the Senate, has been referred to the house, amended, and sent back to the Senate where it was passed by a vote of 36 to 10 and while it’s not on the bill watch list, Senate Bill 263 is now just awaiting a signature from Governor Holcomb.