Texas Keeps a Re-open Mind

April 22, 2020

Part of what makes the coronavirus so challenging is just how different every state is. Some have been brought to their knees by infections, others are chomping at the bit to get back to normal. No one envies the job of these governors who have to weigh the risk of personal safety with the benefits of reopening the economy. But as unique as each region is, there is one thing they all have in common -- and that's the importance, in all of this, of religious freedom.

In Texas, where Governor Greg Abbott (R) is joining the first wave of re-openings, he made sure to stress how important our freedom is at this time. As one of the few states that issued comprehensive religious liberty guidance, he wants every locality to know that it's the government's job to protect this fundamental right, even as they go about ensuring the public health.

As part of the latest overhaul to his executive order on religious liberty, Governor Abbott did open the door to in-person church services but stressed that houses of worship must continue to help slow the spread of the virus. "Texas is a big state and the transmission rate of COVID-19 varies in different communities." It's important, he noted to pay attention to your local community. "Houses of worship should conduct as many of their activities as possible remotely. Services that houses of worship cannot conduct remotely should be conducted in accordance with guidance from the White House and the [CDC]."

As churches begin the planning process for re-opening their doors, the state outlines a basic list of safety protocol. As congregations in the country mourn the loss of pastors and choir members, even for states like Texas -- where deaths have been lower than most -- vigilance is key. Continuing with the creative solutions that churches have implemented is still the best solution for now, Abbott urges. "For example, a church could hold "drive-in" style services. Or because Executive Order GA 16 permits drive-thrus to provide goods and services, a house of worship may, according to their faith practices, provide communion or a blessing through a similar drive-up service."

Texans have big hearts, the governor said. So love your neighbor by taking their safety seriously. For more information on religious freedom in the age of coronavirus, check out FRC's new issue brief here.