TX legislature to churches: You have right to keep doors open

Tuesday, April 13, 2021
 | 
Charlie Butts (OneNewsNow.com)

church locked down 2After a year of church congregations fighting for the right to keep the doors open, Texas may soon send a message about religious freedom as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

In the Texas legislature, both chambers have overwhelmingly approved a version of the Texas Freedom to Worship Act. The companion bills are expected to pass again with overwhelming support and be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott for signing.

Jonathan Covey with Texas Values recalls that, across the country, tens of thousands of churches were ordered to close their doors, and to keep them closed Sunday after Sunday, while pastors and churchgoers watched businesses remain opened to the public.  

“Even in other states, like California and Nevada,” he recalls, “churches were told to close while casinos were allowed to stay open. Strip clubs were allowed to stay open.”

Not only were church pastors and congregations ordered to turn off the lights, but many who cheered those closures claimed churches that fought being forced to remain closed were selfish for doing so and therefore were not exhibiting Christ-like behavior.

Greg Abbott (TX guv)California-based John McArthur, who leads Grace Community Church, penned a lengthy blog post during the summer of 2020 defending the decision by the church and its elders to defy the State of California and continue to meet. In the first weeks of the virus, McArthur wrote, churches were glad to comply with public officials but, as the weeks stretched into months, it became obvious the China-born virus was not as deadly as was feared.

“As pastors and elders,” McArthur wrote, “we cannot hand over to earthly authorities any privilege or power that belongs solely to Christ as head of His church.”

This week, eight months after McArthur announced Grace Community Church would meet, Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted statewide restrictions on indoor church capacity. He took action only after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upheld the constitutional right to hold at-home Bible studies in California despite state and local regulations.  

Back in Texas, The Texas Tribune newspaper was reporting a year ago this month that Gov. Abbott (pictured above) had declared churches were "essential," along with businesses such as grocery stores, but churches were fighting with local public officials, such as big-city mayors, for the right to remain open. Others closed on their own out of safety concerns for their congregations. 

church pewsThe same April 2020 story published the prediction that the virus would claim two million Americans if they did not stay home.

In the state of Texas, with a population of 29.3 million, fewer than 50,000 have died from COVID-19 to date out of 2.8 million confirmed cases, which is a survival rate of about 98 percent. 

According to Covey, the Texas Freedom to Worship Act forbids government officials in Texas from ever again issuing orders that close down a house of worship by issuing an occupancy limit or capping capacity.

“You can't have the effect of closing a church in Texas,” he says, “as was done in the days of the pandemic.”

The senate version of the bill passed 28-2. The House version passed 117-29.

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