UPDATE 4/9/20 7:24 PM: County Judge Glen Whitley—spokesperson for the Tarrant Commissioners Court—deleted his previous message claiming to prohibit in-person worship through April 30, a statement that did not match the court’s order. He released an edited video that instead “encourages” no in-person worship—the phrase “prohibited” has been removed. 

UPDATE 4/9/20 2:16 PM: “The Sheriff’s Office has not received any orders or directives regarding church services.” — Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office

UPDATE 4/9/20 10:09 AM: Texas Scorecard contacted the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Department regarding the statement from the spokesperson for the commissioners court—County Judge Glen Whitley—and received the following reply: “The county judge has an executive order that we would follow—and follow what is in the executive order to enforce—because that is what is legally binding for a Class B misdemeanor: the executive order that has been signed off on by Judge Glen Whitley and then ratified by the commissioners.” The executive order—as pointed out by Commissioner J.D. Johnson—has not yet been amended to reflect Whitley’s statement. 

During Passover—four days before Easter—the representative of a North Texas county commissioners court announced on social media a countywide ban on people worshipping together in churches—in direct defiance of orders given by Gov. Greg Abbott. However, this oral statement directly conflicts with the court’s actual written order.

On March 31, after local governments such as Fort Worth—in response to the Chinese coronavirus—banned churches from worshipping together in person, Abbott declared churches as “essential services” and suspended local law authority to the extent their actions conflict with his decision.

Wednesday evening, in direct defiance of Abbott’s orders, the spokesperson for the Tarrant County Commissioners Court—County Judge Glen Whitley—announced its own ban on people worshipping together. “This would be the worst thing possible, for [people] to end up in a big gathering and end up coming down with COVID-19,” Whitley said in a video address.

This is not what is in the commissioners court order on April 3. Regarding worship services, it reads in part:

“Religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship are permitted if they cannot be conducted from home or through remote services, so long as Social Distancing is maintained, and existing guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are followed. Religious services held outdoors whereby individuals remain in their vehicles are strongly encouraged. Order GA-14 orders that religious services “should be conducted consistent with the Guidelines from the President and the CDC … “

Recently, Dallas County’s commissioners adopted Tarrant County’s model of requiring their county judge to consult commissioners on important decisions. Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to all of Tarrant County’s commissioners regarding Whitley’s statement. Commissioner J.D. Johnson’s office responded, revealing the discrepancy between Whitley’s words and the court’s order.

When asked why the court’s spokesperson—Whitley—was making such a statement, Johnson’s office replied: “You would have to speak to his office for his explanation.”

Regarding concerns of the Chinese coronavirus, Texas Scorecard reported this week a significant decline in emergency room visits and patient volume at medical facilities in Texas and other states.

“We are at record low numbers because people are afraid they will get COVID-19,” said Dr. Robert Phelan, an emergency room physician and owner of three facilities in Dallas.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation—whose model the White House has relied on—recently revised their nationwide numbers downward, along with those for Texas. As reported by The Texan, the model had predicted 17,221 of Texas’ nearly 30,000 hospital beds would be needed to respond to the virus. Now that number has been ratcheted down to only 3,444.

Dallas County models assumed that out of the 650,000 it claims will contract the virus, 62 percent would require a ventilator. Sources revealed to Texas Scorecard last Friday that there are 13 coronavirus patients on ventilators at Parkland Hospital, and most of the patients who died had an underlying condition.

Texas Scorecard sent follow-up inquiries to the rest of the commissioner’s court regarding the discrepancy in the court’s order and the oral statement by Whitley, their spokesperson.

Commissioner Gary Fickes gave the following reply:

“I have 5 conference calls today starting at 8:00 a.m. I will not be able to fully respond to your request. I have not had any discussion with Judge Whitley on this issue. After viewing the video, it appears he is expressing his opinion and making a suggestion. I have not had any pastor, minister, priest or any other religious leader express any desire to provide in-person services. They are much more concerned with the safety and health of their congregations.”

Gov. Greg Abbott: 512-463-2000
Precinct 1 Commissioner Roy Brooks: 817-370-4500; rcbrooks@tarrantcounty.com
Precinct 2 Commissioner Devan Allen: 817-248-6099; commissionerprecinct2@tarrantcounty.com
Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes: 817-248-6295 ; gfickes@tarrantcounty.com
Precinct 4 Commissioner J.D. Johnson: 817-238-4400; commissionerpct4admin@tarrantcounty.com
County Judge Glen Whitley: 817-884-1441; gwhitley@tarrantcounty.com

This article has been updated since publication.


Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.


The Deafening Silence of Fear

It's better we live courageously, fighting for rights and freedom, than cowardly, capitulating to tyranny out of fear, for a little comfort.