Sean Rayford file photo

A South Carolina House panel is planning to review a bill that would allow churches and other religious organizations to be treated as essential services during states of emergency.

H. 3105 would amend a previous law relating to the South Carolina Religious Freedom Act, deeming religious services essential.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Richie Yow, R-Chesterfield, says religious groups still have to follow safety protocols and occupancy rules during emergencies, but would not be able to be forced to close if other essential businesses can remain open.

Gov. Henry McMaster said last spring that closing churches would violate the freedom of religion provision in the United States Constitution. The statement came as McMaster closed restaurants, salons, gyms and other businesses due to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

Further closures due to the pandemic are unlikely, as vaccine rollouts continue and COVID-19 case numbers decline, despite still remaining high.

A House Special Laws Subcommittee is scheduled to meet regarding the bill Tuesday. The bill can be read in full by the public online.