COLUMBIA—A bill to make religious services an “essential service”, and therefore allowing them to continue operating throughout a state of emergency, has passed a subcommittee in the S.C. House and is on track to be on the governor’s desk in short order.
Michael Acquilano, director of the South Carolina Catholic Conference, noted that the Catholic Church is the third largest denomination in the state, dating back to the 1500s, with a presence in every county; and that the Church is responsible for the founding of some of the first hospitals and schools in the state, and has always been an advocate for the poor and indigent.
“We are most certainly essential,” Acquilano said.
Among the many services provided by the Catholic Church, one of the foremost is in education, where they serve 7,000 students in 33 schools, which have been open for face-to-face learning since mid-August.
Another massive ministry for the Church is social service outreach, through Catholic Charities, Knights of Columbus, St. Vincent de Paul, ladies organizations, and so much more. Serving every county in South Carolina, Catholic Charities meets not just daily needs, but is there to help in every disaster. During the pandemic, Catholic food pantries have seen a 500% increase in need, yet has found ways to stay open and continue serving those in need.
In addition, the very essence of the Church as a place of worship is essential to the mental and spiritual well-being of its people. By all estimations, suicide is up in South Carolina, mental health issues are at an all-time high, and alcohol abuse is soaring.
“The Church brings these people home to Christ,” Acquilano said. “We remind them that we are more than our broken pieces. More than our blemishes. We are not alone. We are children of a loving God and are never alone.”
In this way, the Church as a place of worship is essential to the people it serves, reminding each and every one of us that focusing on our Risen Lord is not only a form a worship, but also a way to step outside ourselves and refocus on our duty and call as Christians: To love and aid one another, to seek justice and peace, to speak for the vulnerable.
The bill that will be voted on by the state House of Representatives in the coming weeks calls for the Church, and her faithful members, to never be treated differently than other businesses.
For more information on the Religious Freedom Act and to let your representative know that worship is and always has been essential, visit the action center.