On Election Day, the people of Texas will vote on Proposition 3, which would amend the state constitution to prohibit state and local governments from adopting any measures that limit services held by a religious organization, even if public safety necessitates it.
This is a bad idea, and Texans should reject it. Here are some reasons why:
Proposition 3 is dangerous: The change would make it more difficult for government officials to protect Texans during natural disasters and public health emergencies. The language is so broad that the governor might be unable to issue and enforce evacuation orders in the event of wildfires, hurricanes or industrial accidents if the orders close roads that prevent access to houses of worship.
Proposition 3 extends special treatment to houses of worship: Freedom of religion is crucial to our nation. But our laws should not grant broad religious exemptions to otherwise neutral policies that are designed to protect us all. Such measures put the desires of some religious leaders over the health and safety of the people.
Proposition 3 is unnecessary: Earlier this year, the Texas legislature passed two bills that already restrict the government from limiting religious services in emergency situations. If these measures prove to be cumbersome or not in the public interest, they can be repealed. But writing the change into the Texas Constitution is much more serious and would be difficult to alter in the future.
Proposition 3 is opposed by many religious communities in Texas: While some fundamentalist groups chafed at the stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic, mainstream religious leaders acknowledged them as necessary to protect everyone’s health and safety. Earlier this year, a broad coalition of 27 faith groups from a variety of religious backgrounds released a statement in opposition to bills like the one that created Proposition 3, and several Texas clergy have since endorsed it. The statement makes it clear that while religious freedom is a cherished right, it shouldn’t become an excuse to endanger public health.
Americans United activists in the Lone Star State are hard at work educating people about the threat posed by Proposition 3.
David Marcus of Join Us For Justice, AU’s El Paso Chapter, penned this op-ed about the dangers of Proposition 3 – and some of his comments were included in a Religion News Service story about the pending vote. Nancy Friedman, president of AU’s Houston Chapter, wrote an op-ed for the Jewish Herald-Voice. (Friedman was also interviewed about the matter for this radio show.)
Government orders closing houses of worship and other facilities are very rare; they’re issued only during the most extreme emergencies, and they’re temporary. Texans should not tie the hands of public officials who are charged with keeping people safe during natural disasters, pandemics, industrial accidents, etc. by carving out a broad exemption for houses of worship. They should reject Proposition 3.