AUSTIN (Nexstar) — During the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, many churches across Texas converted their services to outdoor, online or socially-distanced services.
But, some local officials ordered them to completely shut their doors. That’s why Republican lawmakers filed a bill during regular session that would ban this from happening ever again.
It already passed in the legislature, but now needs approval from voters as a constitutional amendment, Prop 3, in this November’s election.
Religious leaders faced a tough decision on how to serve their congregation during the onset of the pandemic, but some didn’t have a choice.
“We saw multiple local ordinances and other governmental entities shutting down churches,” one of the bill’s co-authors, Rep. Matt Krause, (R – Fort Worth) explained.
Another one of the bill’s co-authors, Rep. James White, (R – Hillister), said this needed to be amended immediately.
“The Constitution of Texas in the United States was very clear. The government should not shut down churches,” Rep. White said.
That’s why the legislature passed the bill that became Prop 3, barring any governmental entity from shutting down churches, even in disasters or emergencies.
The bill passed with bipartisan support, but some tried to fight the new law, saying the churches were ordered to close to protect public health, and did not impede on religious freedoms.
“If a fire marshal orders a number of people to leave a church building because it is currently overflowed, that is not an infringement of anyone’s right to exercise their religion. Likewise with public health concerns,” Brian Register testified against the bill in the spring.
But, the bill’s authors say a complete shutdown is too far.
“The constitution and case laws allow for reasonable time, place and manner restrictions on certain First Amendment rights. So I understand that argument. But this was much different. This was completely shutting down and foreclosing the opportunity to worship. And that’s where government greatly overreached,” Rep. Krause said.
In order for it to officially become law, voters have to give it their approval. The election for Prop 3, and seven other proposed constitutional amendments, is set for Nov. 2, 2021.