Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton released new guidance on Tuesday regarding in-person religious services in the state.
Last month, Abbott issued an executive order listing religious services as among the “essential services” that can remain open during the Lone Star State’s shutdown.
The governor’s order, in fact, specifically added religious services to the list created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“If religious services cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, they should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, and by implementing social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” Abbott’s March 31 order read.
In their updated guidance issued Tuesday, Abbott and Paxton noted it is their responsibility as top state government officials to ensure that Texans’ right to worship — as guaranteed by the First Amendment, as well as Texas’ constitution and laws — is not infringed.
In balancing that right during a public health crisis, they called for houses of worship to continue to “conduct as many activities as possible remotely” and to “follow federal guidelines when providing services in person.”
This updated guidance provides clear direction for houses of worship to protect the health and safety of their congregations as they continue to hold religious services, exercise religious liberty and serve their faith communities. https://t.co/dfdijkiK4b
— Texas Attorney General (@TXAG) April 21, 2020
When conducting services in person, the government leaders offered several suggestions.
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“Encourage all attendees who are 65 and above to stay home and watch the services online, or provide a ‘senior service’ exclusively for attendees 65 and above to attend in person,” the guidance read.
Further, congregations should “[a]sk all attendees who have an underlying at-risk health condition to stay home and watch the services online.”
The guidance also called for ushers and greeters to wear gloves and masks and for churches to keep child care closed, “unless the house of worship can comply with CDC guidelines for child care facilities.”
Additionally, attendees should “sanitize their hands and put on a mask before entering the building” and engage in social distancing by family units.
If necessary, church leaders should add more service times to make it possible to follow the government’s guidelines.
Finally, seats and frequently touched surfaces should be sanitized between services.
Kelly Shackelford, president and chief legal counsel with the religious liberty group First Liberty Institute, praised the move by Texas to allow its residents to worship together again in person.
“We are pleased Texas no longer prohibits in-person religious services. This clear guidance shows respect for religious liberty, and, as long as churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship follow it, provides that they may resume in person meetings prudently,” Shackelford said in a statement provided to The Western Journal.
On Sunday, Abbott shared the importance of his Christian faith via video during an online service for Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, led by Pastor Jack Graham.
The Republican governor made clear that when he speaks about faith as an element of recovery, he knows what he is talking about from personal experience.
At the age of 26, he suffered an injury that left him partially paralyzed from the waist down.
“As you might imagine, when you face something like that, it tests your faith,” Abbott said. “Why would God allow something like this to happen?
“But, very importantly, I found in the aftermath of that, as I continued to reach out to God, I found God reaching right back out to me, and my relationship with God and Jesus Christ grew even closer after the accident. And it empowered me to go on and become governor of the great state of Texas.”
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