AUSTIN — A bill to protect Texas churches from government closures is moving closer to becoming state law.
On Thursday, the Texas Senate approved the Freedom to Worship Act by a bipartisan vote of 28-2. The proposed law would prevent government officials from shutting down churches.
“A government agency or public official may not issue an order that closes or has the effect of closing places of worship in the state or in a geographic area of the state,” the bill reads.
The issue was exposed over the past year, as local and state government officials around the nation tried to padlock churches as part of their shutdown orders that crippled countless citizens’ lives and livelihoods.
“Last year, and still this year, some government officials are restricting churches from being open while allowing liquor stores, strip clubs, and casinos to continue to operate,” said nonprofit advocacy group Texas Values.
“The problem I see is at any moment, we could just be shut down and not be able to worship. In fact, our church was actually closed and told if we open, they’d fine me $1,000 and I’d have 180 days in jail,” said Pastor Cody Haynes at the Capitol yesterday. Haynes pastors a church in the Central Texas area and is involved in a network of cowboy churches.
“We want to be in compliance with our governmental rules, but at the same time, they put such pressure on us that it closed,” Haynes added.
“Self-evident truths include … the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs without interference from the government,” said Pastor Charles Flowers from the San Antonio area. “Men are endowed by their Creator, not by government, [and that includes] the right to worship and the right to stay open and help the community, especially in a time of tragedy.”
“In times of turmoil for many Americans, churches are absolutely essential to help the hurting. Churches are the one place people seek out when faced with spiritual, physical, and mental burdens,” Texas Values continued. “However, churches are restricted from helping when their doors are barred.”
“Attacks on churches during this pandemic overwhelmingly demonstrate our need to reaffirm that churches in the State of Texas are essential and must remain open,” the group added.
The proposed law will now need the Texas House’s approval, and that process is already underway after the House State Affairs Committee heard public testimony on companion legislation yesterday. If the committee moves the bill forward to the full chamber of representatives and it passes, the Freedom to Worship Act will end up on the governor’s desk to be signed into law.
The Senate also passed a resolution Thursday to add similar church protections into the Texas Constitution, and lawmakers are currently considering several other religious liberty bills, including proposed laws to fortify safeguards for religious organizations and freedoms, as well as a resolution to support prayer at public gatherings and displays of the Ten Commandments in public buildings.
Concerned citizens may contact their state representatives.