By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
September 23, 2021
Patients who wind up in the hospital in the midst of a declared disaster or emergency should not lose their religious freedom, and they won’t in North Carolina, thanks to House Bill 447, which was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Gov. Roy Cooper on Sept. 16.
The new law, set to take effect Oct. 1, guarantees the right of patients to have a clergy member visit them in the hospital.
“We are thankful to Governor Cooper for signing this important measure, which protects religious liberties. Mostly, our appreciation extends to Rep. Keith Kidwell (R- Beaufort), who acted on the need for this legislation,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “It’s true the church and state have separate roles, but both are under God. As R.C. Sproul once beautifully stated: ‘The state is always under the authority of God. God institutes government, God ordains government, and God will judge government. He holds government and all other institutions in our society responsible for doing what is right.’”
Creech said preventing people, in this case patients, from seeing clergy during a pandemic or some other crisis, as some hospitals have done during the Covid pandemic, is unquestionably wrong.
Kidwell said the measure, called the Jeff Rieg Law, was so named to honor the victim of a car accident who spent his last days in a Greenville hospital while his family fought for permission to have his pastor visit him.
“I am so sorry that the Rieg family had to suffer through this, but I hope it is a comfort to know that Jeff was the inspiration for making this law happen,” Kidwell said. Announcing the law’s passage on Facebook, he urged his social media followers to let clergy members know that they can print a copy of the law and have it with them as evidence should a hospital refuse to allow them in citing Covid protocols or some other emergency rules.
The law, which is less than a page long, does allow medical facilities to subject members of the clergy to health screenings and restrict their access if they do not pass. Religious advisors would also be required to follow infection control procedures as long as they did not interfere with their beliefs or with those of the patient.
Creech had recommended what he called the “wonderfully thoughtful” legislation to lawmakers on the Senate Healthcare Committee as it made its way through the General Assembly with virtually no opposition.
“Religious leaders are uniquely equipped to provide visitation and counseling to burdened people – the grieving, the anxious and fearful, the guilt-ridden, the forsaken, the questioning, and the sick and dying – especially the dying. All of these burdens are exacerbated by disaster,” he told the committee.
“This legislation affirms our citizens are not simply flesh and blood. They are also mind and spirit. And to deny citizens access to the necessary services of clergy, even in a moment of danger, is to impoverish them in the highest order. For Jesus said, ‘What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole earth and loses his own soul?’”
Creech said the accessibility of clergy during a crisis, especially something like a pandemic, can be indispensable to the mental health of the public.