Texas Governor, Attorney General issue guidance for religious services during COVID-19 pandemic

Texas Governor, Attorney General issue guidance for religious services during COVID-19 pandemic
(Source: WAFB)

AUSTIN, Texas (KLTV) - Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have issued joint guidance for houses of worship and religious services during the governor’s executive order responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The document, released Wednesday, addresses language used in Executive Order GA 14.

“This guidance provides clear direction for houses of worship to protect the health and safety of Texans as they continue to hold religious services, exercise their religious liberty, and serve their faith communities" Paxton stated in a news release.

Though churches and other houses of worship are classified by the State of Texas as ‘essential services,’ the guidance document states, “Institutions providing these essential services can provide them under certain conditions described in Executive Order GA 14 and local orders by counties or municipalities that are consistent with GA 14."

In a press conference Tuesday, the governor directed individuals and churches to conduct religious activities from home or through remote audio and video services. If they cannot conduct activities remotely, the governor directed houses of worship to follow White House and CDC guidelines for social distancing, personal hygiene, and sanitizing public surfaces.

The guidance document further instructed some houses of worship to avoid large gatherings.

“The CDC currently recommends that if a community is experiencing substantial community spread of COVID-19, then the houses of worship in that community should cancel all in-person gatherings of any size.”

Stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders issued by local governments will likely also impact planned Holy Week and Easter services and observances for congregations across the state.

“A church may hold Easter services in its parking lot, with attendees remaining in their cars (windows down), parked in every other parking spot, with the minister using amplification to preach,” the document stated. “Or because Executive Order GA 14 permits drive-thrus to operate, then a house of worship may, according to their faith practices, provide communion or a blessing through a similar drive-up service. Or pastors with smaller congregations may consider conducting multiple services of 10 people or fewer in their sanctuaries, so long as they maintain appropriate social distancing, properly sanitize the building between each service, and provide hand sanitizer.”

The document concluded by explaining the rationale that the restrictions do not violate the religious liberty of houses of worship.

“Under the extraordinary circumstances in which we temporarily live, these restrictions do not violate the religious liberty of houses of worship because the government has a compelling interest for implementing the rules(stopping contagion) and the rules are the least restrictive means of burdening religious practice (they allow houses of worship to stay open for ministry, but suggest ways that help stop the spread of COVID-19).”

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