Texas Attorney General Corrects Local Counties on COVID-19 Church Guidance

Today, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent letters to Travis, Bexar, and Dallas counties in regards to the recent unconstitutional requirements the local leaders in these counties were placing on churches. The Attorney General noted that local leaders were confusing requirements with recommendations. He even warned the City of Austin and Travis County that they were exposing themselves to legal liability for the violation of the First Amendment and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Austin and Travis County went as far as to force churches to adopt sexual orientation and gender identity policies, against their sincerely held religious beliefs. For more details on each county, see the summary below:

City of Austin and Travis County puts extra burdens on churches to cancel meetings, sneak in SOGI Policy

  • COA and Travis County order creates mandates for houses of worship.
  • COA and Travis County imposed specific restrictions on houses of worship that included:
    • Forcing churches to implement sexual orientation and gender identity polices that directly contradict biblical beliefs for staff decisions.
    • Prohibiting certain employees and members of the public from providing or obtaining essential services, unless social distancing and face covering requirements are followed.
    • Forcing churches to create and implement an infectious disease response plan.
    • Forcing churches to minimize or cancel in person meetings and conferences.
  • The requirements COA and Travis County set exceed both the city’s and the county’s lawful authority.
  • The Governor’s Executive Order supersedes any order of the City of Austin or Travis County.
  • The city and county orders violate religious freedom provided by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the Texas constitution and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • The city and county expose themselves to legal liability because they trampled on religious freedom.
  • Read the full letter here.

Dallas County inaccurately lists houses of worship under “Reopened Services” and potentially (and falsely) limits the number of people who can attend religious services.

  • Dallas County order conflicts with the governor’s order by mandating that houses of worship comply with the protocols referenced in your order, including
  • The order puts potential limitations on the number of people who can attend religious services.
  • Executive Order GA-21 provides that it supersedes “any conflicting order issued by local officials” to the extent the local order restricts essential services [.]”…To be clear, Executive Order GA-21 prohibits a local order from limiting the number of people who can attend religious services…a local order that unlawfully tramples religious freedom exposes the county to legal liability.”
  • Read the full letter here.

City of San Antonio and Bexar County falsely limit the number of people in Worship Services

  • Attorney General Paxton warned local Bexar County and San Antonio officials that certain requirements in their local health orders “exceed the county’s and city’s lawful authority.”
  • For example, in Bexar, County Judge Wolff issued an order mandating that essential services, including houses of worship, limit the number of people allowed on their premises.
  • This has resulted in some local houses of worship limiting their religious services to a very small amount of people in an attempt to stay in compliance with these inaccurate requirements (the Phase One 25% capacity does not apply to churches).
  • Attorney General Paxton’s letter provided a strong rebuke to local officials for unlawfully attempting to “trample religious freedom” and expose the city and county to liability.
  • Houses of worship are protected to freely exercise their religion by the federal and state Constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
  • Read the full letter here.

For more helpful resources, view the Texas Church Reopening FAQ.

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