Arizona Religious Leaders Urge Defeat of HB2648

Today, the Arizona leaders of the United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and The Episcopal Church jointly sent the following statement to the Arizona State Senators:

As the spiritual leaders of four denominations representing 219 local churches, we urge Arizona Senators to vote no on HB2648. Consider the reasons this bill should not be enacted.

  • HB2648 does not represent the views or practices of the majority of faith communities in Arizona. When the pandemic began our congregations and many others voluntarily suspended in-person gatherings long before any public order was announced. We did so in the interest of public health and safety. We encouraged Governor Ducey to enact restriction to protect public health that included houses of worship. The churches advocating for this bill represent a small minority of Arizonans.
  • HB 2648 is unnecessary. Current Arizona law already protects religious freedom, even in times of crisis. For example, the Arizona Religious Freedom Restoration Act provides that the “government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless the government can meet a very high legal standard.
  • HB2648 is much more extreme than the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent rulings. Those rulings which already protect worship services during times of crisis. The Court has made clear that government may not impose emergency restrictions on worship services that are more severe than restrictions imposed on comparable secular gatherings. HB 2648 would go far beyond this common-sense rule. For example, if a hospital could stay open to treat people hurt during an emergency, houses of worship would be allowed to remain open as well, no matter the danger to the lives of members or the community.
  • HB2648 defines “religious organization” to include any group claiming its activities are religious “REGARDLESS OF WHETHER IT IS INTEGRATED OR AFFILIATED WITH A CHURCH OR OTHER HOUSE OF WORSHIP…CONDUCTING RELIGIOUS RITUALS OR OTHER ACTIVITIES THAT ARE DEEMED NECESSARY BY THE RELIGIOUS ORGANIZATION FOR THE EXERCISE OF RELIGION.” This definition is too broad. Under the bill any group of two or more people with sincerely held beliefs could claim exemption from Arizona’s laws.
  • HB2648 contradicts common understanding of our sacred texts. Christian Scripture includes many passages directing people of faith to “obey the government rulers.” (Roman 13:1). For example, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God.” (1 Peter 2:13-17) When Christians choose to “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29) they are admonished to nonviolently accept the consequences for that choice, not claim exemption from governmental authority.

HB2648 is an unnecessary measure carrying harmful consequences for all Arizonans, even the proponents of the bill. We call on the Arizona Senate to vote against HB2468, and we call on Governor Ducey to veto the measure if it reaches his desk.


Rev. Dr. William Lyons, Conference Minister
Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ

The Rt. Rev. Deborah K. Hutterer, Bishop
Grand Canyon Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Reddall
Sixth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona

Rev. Jay Hartley, Region Minister
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Arizona

(The bishops and executives issuing this statement lead a combined 219 local churches in Arizona.)