Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas, one of the Republican-run states currently struggling to handle the COVID crisis, recently issued a face mask mandate for just about all public places. Smart move! Everyone should be wearing a mask if they’re coming into close contact with others.
But for reasons that defy logic, Attorney General Ken Paxton (below) says that private religious schools don’t have to follow those rules. In an open letter, Paxton insisted religious institutions can decide for themselves whether or not they want to put the public in danger.
The Governor also exempted religious services from the state-wide masking order, but strongly encouraged houses of worship to require masks. Additionally, when the Governor issued orders applicable to public schools, he expressly acknowledged that private schools and institutions have the freedom to make their own decisions.
The phrase “strongly encouraged” is meaningless here. He’s giving them an out, as if the virus won’t affect people if they attend a church. Paxton defends the move by referencing the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, saying that attempts to tell churches or religious schools what to do would be a legal violation… except allowing them to ignore the rules in this case would affect the entire state’s health.
Thus, as protected by the First Amendment and Texas law, religious private schools may continue to determine when it is safe for their communities to resume in-person instruction free from any government mandate or interference. Religious private schools therefore need not comply with local public health orders to the contrary.
It’s a level of faith-based idiocy that only Texas could achieve.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation notes that churches should especially be under the mandate given their “culpability” in spreading the virus. But they should at least be under the same restrictions as everyone else, and there’s nothing wrong with requiring that given how the government can already place restrictions on churches in other situations.
Governments already regularly place limits on worship gatherings that jeopardize public health, FFRF stresses. For instance, the government prohibits churches from cramming too many people into a building in violation of fire codes and also requires that church buildings comply with necessary building codes. The congregants’ right to gather and worship is limited by the government’s need to protect those congregants from being trampled to death and the community from a fire. Requiring masking due to a pandemic is even more crucial.
That’s why to protect the health and safety of all Texas residents, FFRF is asking that Executive Order GA-29’s mask-wearing requirements be extended to churches. The coronavirus does not relent based on the type of building one enters; to be effective, neither must Texas’ response to the virus.
“Texas deserves a bad bill of health until it lifts this exemption,” adds FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “The exception that state officials are making based on religious pandering could end up harming a whole lot of Texans.”
As he’s done so many times before, Paxton (with Abbott’s approval) will bend over backwards to accommodate the wishes of conservative Christians even if it puts everyone else at a serious disadvantage. In this case, his leniency will cost lives.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Karen for the link)