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Arkansas Legislature Passes Church Superspreader Bill, Allows People to “Kill Themselves” and the Community with COVID-19

Little Rock, Arkansas—Today, the public policy watchdog American Atheists condemned passage of Arkansas’s church superspreader bill (HB 1211) in the Senate (31-0 with 4 present). This bill passed the Arkansas House of Representatives on January 28 and the Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs, chaired by noted Christian nationalist Jason Rapert, yesterday. It will now go to the governor’s desk.

During the floor vote, Rapert read the title of American Atheists’ press release from yesterday—“Christian Nationalist Jason Rapert Fast Tracks Arkansas’s Church Superspreader Bill, Disregards COVID-19 Infections and Deaths”. Nonetheless, he failed to consider its contents—that HB 1211 will increase the likelihood that churches will become deadly COVID-19 hotspots. State Senator Linda Chesterfield admitted as much when she said, “I’m going to vote for the bill…people have the right to decide whether or not they want to kill themselves.”

“It’s not just about the people who choose to go to church. Their choices put the lives of everyone in the community in danger,” said Alison Gill, Vice President for Legal and Policy at American Atheists.

A 2020 CDC report found that a rural Arkansas church’s superspreader events transmitted the virus to people outside of the church, leading to at least 26 additional confirmed COVID-19 cases, which included a hospitalization and death.

“Today, lawmakers showed they care more about pandering to fringe church leaders than protecting all Arkansans,” said Gill. “During the hearing, Senator Hammer, one of the bill’s sponsors, admitted he closed down his church for two months due to COVID-19—yet wants to let other churches stay open and become COVID-19 hotspots. This is irresponsible and deadly.”

Last week, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences warned about a spike in coronavirus deaths in the coming weeks.

“Arkansas’s church superspreader bill will only aggravate Arkansas’s coming wave of coronavirus infections and deaths,” said Nick Fish, president of American Atheists. “When Arkansans ask who’s to blame, they need only look to their legislators.”