Texans to vote on whether governments can limit religious services
(RNS) – Voters in Texas to decide on Election Day (Nov. 2) whether state and local governments can place limits on religious services, such as public health orders that closed places of worship and businesses earlier in the COVID-19 pandemic.
If voters approve the measure, known as Proposition 3, it would add a clause to the Texas Constitution prohibiting state or local authorities from banning or limiting religious services.
The amendment divided religious groups in Texas and also amassed bipartisan support, passing both the Senate and the state House of Representatives with a number of Democrats joining unanimous Republican support.
State Representative Scott Sanford, a Republican who sponsored the Freedom to Worship Act, said the closure of churches in the wake of COVID-19 has wiped out critical ministries “in times of crisis” and “violated their religious freedom ”. In addition to being a legislator, Sanford is an executive pastor of a church in Allen, Texas.
Eric McDaniel, professor of government at the University of Texas at Austin, told Courthouse News Service that bipartisan support for the amendment was not surprising.
“Religion, especially in Texas, is very important to people and no politician wants to be seen as anti-religious,” McDaniel said. “Going after religion in Texas is probably worse than attacking Social Security.”
Similar measures have made their way in states across the country. A February analysis from Deseret News found that US lawmakers “are considering nearly 50 bills dealing with protecting religious freedom during a pandemic.”
In California, Senator Brian Jones’ “Religion Is Essential Act”, which allegedly considered religious services an essential activity during a declared emergency, was not passed by a state Senate committee. But in Arkansas, a new law says the governor cannot prohibit a religious group from continuing to attend church services in an emergency.
Texas Proposition 3 has its share of criticism.
Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, said the measure was too broad and unnecessary. She told Religion News Service that it sent “a damaging message that clerics are more concerned with special treatment than the good of their communities.”
Tyler said Texas already has strong protections, highlighting the state’s religious freedom and restoration law “which we believe provides the right balancing standard for deciding free exercise rights issues. individuals and communities (who) may come into conflict with government interests “.
“I hope voters in Texas understand the strong protections for free exercise they already enjoy and understand that this additional provision of the Constitution is unnecessary, too broad and could in fact compromise the health and safety of their communities,” Tyler said. .
In a column opposing the measure in El Paso Matters, David Marcus of Join Us for Justice, the El Paso chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, wrote that Proposition 3 “could have consequences. deadly if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens or if we are faced with a more contagious virus.
The headline of an editorial in the Houston Chronicle urged voters to vote “No” on the “that goes too far” proposal, arguing that the measure “ties the hands of officials who try to protect people.”
But for John Greiner, pastor of Glorious Way Church in Houston, this step is crucial. Last year, Greiner joined with three other pastors in filing a petition with the Texas Supreme Court calling for the order of Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo – which shut down churches in the midst of COVID-19 – be ruled unconstitutional.
From the pulpit, Greiner preached about the importance of voting for Proposition 3. And through his My God Votes campaign, Greiner wants to empower religious leaders to take a stand on issues surrounding religious freedom.
“We are trying to let people know that the church needs to provide voting advice to people and help them make an informed Christian decision when they go to the voting booth,” Greiner told RNS, adding that in this case, that means voting “Yes” on the measure.
“When everyone was shut down, we received a tremendous response from the faith community because many of them were very upset that their pastor had closed their churches and limited their services to live streaming,” he said. -he declares. “We had a lot of people who came to our church when theirs was closed and some of them never returned. Some of them stayed with us.
For Greiner, individual churches and church attendees “should be responsible for their own health care decisions, their own risk to reward behavior.”
“The church should be the place where people go to be healed. There are a lot of churches and some don’t believe in healing. … They should be free to shut down if that’s what they want to do, but I don’t think the government should be forcing that on any group, ”Greiner said.
READ THIS STORY AT RELIGIONNEWS.COM.
Article originally published by Religion News Service. Used with permission.
Photo courtesy: © RNS / AP Photo / LM Otero