By M.H. Cavanaugh
Christian Action League
August 26, 2021
This year, legislation that hasn’t received any press is HB 447 – The Jeff Rieg Law/Patients Religious Rights. The bill has already passed the House by a substantial margin of 98-19. It was taken up in the Senate Healthcare Committee on Thursday and passed in that committee.
Rep. Bobby Hanig (R-Currituck) ran the bill before the Senate Healthcare Committee. He was standing in for the bill’s champion, Rep. Keith Kidwell (R-Beaufort), who has been out because of a bout with COVID.
Hanig argued the legislation was about the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and Religious Freedom. In his remarks, he also referenced North Carolina’s Constitution, which reads:
“All persons have a natural and inalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences, and no human authority shall, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”
Hanig added the United States Supreme Court had ruled that the Constitution was not less important during an emergency, but more important.
The need for the measure was borne out of policies enforced by hospitals during the pandemic, which prevented patients from receiving the services of the clergy.
HB 447 requires a hospital to allow clergy members to visit admitted patients who wish to be seen by a clergy member, despite any disaster declarations or the use of the hospital as a temporary emergency shelter.
Clergy would be subject to health screenings and adherence to infection control procedures that do not interfere with the religious beliefs of the patient or clergy member. Hospitals would be able to restrict visitation by clergy members who did not pass the health screening.
During discussion on the bill, there was no opposition from members of the committee. Everyone who spoke expressed words of appreciation to the bill’s sponsors or related in some way that HB 447 was important legislation.
Public comment included Joanna Rieg, the daughter of the man for whom the legislation was named. Rieg told lawmakers that it was an “unbelievable, heart-wrenching moment” when her father was hospitalized during the pandemic and could not have time with his pastor before he died.
Reig explained her father had been very active in his church and had traveled on Christian mission trips to places such as India and Africa with his pastor. Their long-time friendship and ministry partnership stretched to more than twenty years.
“When we were faced with losing my Dad and walking through that as a family, we were unable to have one of my Dad’s best friends with us. This legislation allows for families to have that kind of support, physical and spiritual, something we desperately needed in those moments when everything was taken away from us,” said Reig.
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, also spoke in favor of the legislation. Creech told lawmakers:
“This legislation hasn’t needed my help, and I don’t think it does today. Nevertheless, because I have been so busy this session with other concerns, I come before you now, before it’s too late, to express to the bill’s sponsors the gratitude of the Christian Action League for this wonderfully thoughtful legislation.
“I was a pastor for twenty years before taking the helm of the Christian Action League, and I can tell you from experience that the accessibility of clergy during a crisis, especially something like a disaster or a pandemic, can be indispensable to the mental health of the public.
“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.
“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 then urged the committee to pass the bill.
The legislation is slated to go to the Senate Rules Committee before ultimately going to the Senate floor.
HB 447 is expected to pass.