December 2021 Church & State Magazine - December 2021

Texas Voters Alter Constitution To Restrict Government’s Ability To Close Houses Of Worship

  Texas Voters Alter Constitution To Restrict Government’s Ability To Close Houses Of Worship

Voters in Texas have amended 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.

Prop. 3 passed by a wide margin Nov. 2. Americans United had urged Texans to vote against it, noting that the change would make it more difficult for government officials to protect Texans during natural disasters and public health emergencies.

AU noted that the language in Prop. 3 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.

Americans United also pointed out that Prop. 3 grants a broad religious exemption to otherwise neutral policies that are designed to protect us all. Such measures, AU argued, put the desires of some religious leaders over the health and safety of the people.

The change was also 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 If these measures prove to be cumbersome or not in the public interest, they can be repealed.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.

Many religious leaders in Texas opposed Prop. 3, but on election night, it passed by 62.5% to 37.5%.

Americans United activists in the Lone Star State worked to educate people about the threat posed by Prop. 3. David Marcus of Join Us For Justice, AU’s El Paso Chapter, wrote an op-ed about the dangers of Proposition 3, which appeared on the site El Paso Matters. 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 a radio show.)

On its “Wall of Separation” blog, AU asserted, “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.”

In other election news, Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected governor of Virginia Nov. 2, defeating Democrat Terry McAuliffe. During the final weeks of the race, Youngkin emphasized his opposition to critical race theory (CRT), even though the concept isn’t being taught in Virginia’s public schools. National GOP leaders took note, and some political analysts believe the party will increase its attacks on CRT as the 2022 mid­term elections approach.

Congress needs to hear from you!

Urge your legislators to co-sponsor the Do No Harm Act today.

The Do No Harm Act will help ensure that our laws are a shield to protect religious freedom and not used as a sword to harm others by undermining civil rights laws and denying access to health care.

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