In early April, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued an executive order identifying church services as “essential.” Abbott urged religious leaders to conduct their services remotely via livestreaming or prerecorded services, but he did permit in-person services.
However, Cameron County Judge Eddie Treviño Jr. said on Monday—the second day of Holy Week—that he will not be allowing any such services to happen. Treviño reiterated this position Thursday, saying, “To do so would be risky, would be foolhardy, and would not be the right thing to do.” Trevino added that “if you are in a car with more than one person, you are in violation of the CDC guidelines.”
“We’ve been made aware that at least one, but maybe even two churches, did have drive-thru services on Sunday,” said Treviño, a Democrat. “I will advise everyone that, despite [it being] Easter, we will not be allowing these types of services because of the danger and risk associated with them.”
Abbott’s executive order defines “essential services” to include “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship.” Under the executive order, churches are permitted to hold in-person services provided they adhere to the health and safety guidelines given by the president and the CDC. These guidelines include good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, sanitation, and social distancing.
Furthermore, the order also states that it supersedes local orders that prevent such essential services.
Some churches in Cameron County have adopted the practice of holding drive-in services. People arrive at a parking lot and remain in their cars, then they tune into an FM channel or listen via speakers set up by the church. But Trevino stated that “if you are in a car with more than one person, you are in violation of the CDC guidelines.”
In an interview on Tuesday, Abbott took the opposite position.
“Everyone can gather in a way in their car but not expose themselves to anybody else outside their own household,” Abbott said. “It’s almost as though someone is staying inside their own house, as it concerns the transmission of COVID-19. It ensures and achieves the best practices as articulated by Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx to make sure people are not communicating COVID-19.”
Western Outreach Center and Cowboy Church of the Valley in Santa Rosa is one church that is reversing its course and will not have drive-in services. The church plans to hold a virtual service in light of the news from Treviño.
A representative of the church said they have been in contact with a lawyer but have not pursued any legal action at the moment. They have also been in contact with other churches in the region that are frustrated with the county judge. The representative stated her frustration that some members may not have access to the internet to attend virtual services. She also made a comparison to restaurants, such as Sonic, that have many cars waiting in the parking lot for food. Her position is that the county judge’s claim that a drive-in service violates the one-person-per-car limit is inconsistent with the reality of various other essential businesses as well as home life. “Am I not allowed to be in my own house if there are more than two people?”
In a press conference Thursday, Trevino stated, “The assembly of more than 10 individuals at this point would be a violation of the CDC guidelines, the president’s order, and the governor’s order. If we keep looking for exceptions or loopholes to do the things we want to do, all it’s going to do is extend the time for the order. “
Judge Treviño’s office has not returned a request for comment.