After last year’s assault on Texans’ liberties by state and local officials, two North Texas Republican lawmakers have filed the Texas Essential Church Act to address violations of religious freedom. Discussion ensues on the proposed act and whether it is good enough or just “virtue signaling.”

On January 25, State Sen. Kelly Hancock (R–North Richland Hills) and State Rep. Jeff Leach (R–Allen) filed Senate Joint Resolution 27 and House Joint Resolution 72, proposing a constitutional amendment that would prohibit Texas “or a political subdivision of this state” from banning or limiting “religious services.”

If the resolutions are adopted by a vote of two-thirds of all members in both chambers, the amendment goes to Texas voters for final approval on November 2.

While Republicans control the state’s House and Senate, the margins are a 15-seat majority in the House and a five-seat majority in the Senate. Even with full support from GOP members, Hancock and Leach will also need votes from their Democrat colleagues to advance the religious freedom protection.

Last year, Fort Worth, Dallas County, and Tarrant County were among the local governments that issued in-person worship bans as part of their response to the Chinese coronavirus. Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton reacted by issuing guidelines that strictly forbid local governments from banning in-person worship.

“While the revisionists of our history declare an imaginary wall of separation of church and state, power-drunk politicians made quick work to bulldoze their ‘wall’ to quickly exert their unconstitutional overreaching powers to bar the doors of churches,” Tarrant County resident Joel Starnes told Texas Scorecard.

Starnes said he approves of Hancock’s and Leach’s act.

“I like it,” he said. “It should not be necessary, but [is] made so by government overreach.”

Upon hearing about the proposed act, True Texas Project President Fran Rhodes expressed suspicions.

“This feels a lot like virtue signaling to me,” she wrote in part. “We have the right from God to worship and the guarantee that the government will not interfere with worship in the U.S. Constitution and the Texas Constitution, so why do we need an amendment to say the same thing?”

“Religious liberty and the freedom ‘peaceably to assemble’ are concepts so fundamental to the foundations of our nation that they are explicitly, indelibly, enshrined in the Bill of Rights,” Hancock wrote in a joint statement with Leach. “Texas will continue to protect and defend those rights, no matter the circumstances.”

“I am proud to file the Texas Essential Church Act with my good friend Senator Kelly Hancock to ensure, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that our churches and houses of worship have iron-clad, constitutional protection against any government or official,” Leach added.

“When we were trying to get those local governments to change their orders, and when Gov. Abbott exercised unusual authority to close businesses and issue mandates, I don’t recall Rep. Jeff Leach or Senator Kelly Hancock speaking out loudly against it,” Rhodes wrote. “Maybe I missed it, but I don’t recall seeing that. Doing so now is a little late in the game.”

Citizens concerned about protecting religious liberty from government mandates may contact their state representative and state senator.

Robert Montoya

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