BREAKING NEWS! Texas Governor, Attorney General update guidance on closure of houses of worship

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, center with Speaker of the House Dennis Bonnen, right, and Lt. Governor Dan Patrick.

BREAKING NEWS!

The Golden Hammer Staff Reports

Austin, April 22 – Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton yesterday issued updated joint guidance regarding the effect of Governor Abbott’s Executive Order GA-16 on religious services conducted by congregations and houses of worship. It recommends strategies for houses of worship to effectively slow the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) while serving their respective communities of faith.

“Government and faith communities throughout Texas must work together to care for our neighbors and slow the spread of COVID-19,” said Attorney General Paxton. “This updated guidance provides clear direction for houses of worship to protect the health and safety of their congregations as they continue to hold religious services, exercise religious liberty and serve their faith communities.”

Governor Abbott and General Paxton jointly issued the following clarification: All emergency orders must comply with the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, Article I of the Texas Constitution, and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which protect the rights of Texans to freely exercise their religion. Consistent with those protections, Executive Order GA-16 defines essential services to include “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.” Orders given by state or local governments, therefore, may not prohibit people from providing or obtaining those religious services. And importantly, under GA-16, local government may not close houses of worship.

There is no place where the Constitution authorizes suspension of rights or privileges, other than with respect to writs of habeas corpus during times of rebellion or insurrection. In particular, the entire Bill of Rights (the first ten Amendments to the Constitution) lacks any authority for suspending those rights.

The First Amendment provides: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Those rights extended to the states when the Fourteenth Amendment became a part of the Constitution.

Neither a Texas County Judge, Mayor, a Texas Governor, nor any other governmental authority anywhere in the United States may suspend the right of the people peaceably to assemble nor may they prohibit the free exercise of religion. THESE LOCKDOWN, STAY-AT-HOME, AND BUSINESS CLOSURE ORDERS ARE A CLEAR VIOLATION OF THE CONSTITUTION AND OF OUR FUNDAMENTAL FREEDOMS AS AMERICANS.

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