Gov. Greg Abbott and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have put out a new directive for religious observances during COVID-19 that supersedes any stricter local orders.
The new guidance comes as Muslims across Texas prepare to observe Ramadan and as Abbott and Paxton find themselves facing a legal challenge from the far right over the state’s stay-home order.
The new order classifies houses of worship as essential services that are allowed to remain open during the pandemic and specifies that local governments may not order them closed.
There are recommendations included to help stem the spread of coronavirus, but the order does not mandate they be followed. Those recommendations encourage conducting as many activities as possible remotely and following the Centers for Disease Control guidelines when providing services in person.
“Texas is a big state, and the transmission rate of COVID-19 varies in different communities,” the order reads. “Texans also have big hearts and should love their neighbors by evaluating the rate of local community spread to determine the appropriate level of mitigation strategies to implement. Houses of worship play an important role in this effort and can use their creativity to help slow the spread of the virus.”
In addition to handwashing and social distancing, the order suggests the following:
• Encouraging attendees who are 65 and older to stay home and watch the services online or providing a “senior service” for the elderly.
• Asking all attendees with existing health conditions to stay home and watch online.
• Equipping ushers and greeters with gloves and masks.
• Keeping child care closed.
A lawsuit filed last week by ultra-conservative Steve Hotze and Houston-area pastors accuses Abbott and Paxton of imposing draconian, unconstitutional requirements on Texans. As reported previously by Reform Austin, the suit claims “churches and small businesses are shut down, and Texans’ right to move about freely is restricted.”