Texas Governor Greg Abbott Declares Religious Services Essential Texas Governor Greg Abbott Declares Religious Services Essential

Texas Governor Greg Abbott Declares Religious Services Essential

While the police have arrested pastors in Louisiana and Florida for holding religious services, it is unlikely that the same will be happening in Texas any time soon.

Governor Greg Abbott has deemed that religious services are considered "essential services."

This means that if a church, synagogue, or moque is unable to conduct services remotely (i.e. online), then they will be permitted to convene.

The Texas governor has also made moves that contradict more liberal governors, including preventing criminals being released from prisons during the COVID-19 pandemic.

States such as California, New York, and New Jersey have recently released criminals from prisons out of fear of the novel coronavirus spreading behind bars.

Governor Abbott's orders stand in stark contrast to those states, putting law abiding citizens first.

More on what this means for Texans below:

With Holy Week and Easter around the corner, many Christians are grappling with the idea of celebrating away from their religious communities.

Abbott's policy would allow congregations to meet as long as they abide by the social distancing guidelines recommended by the CDC and the Trump Administration.

Individual churchs would have to be creative with how they do this. For example, "drive-up" services where members stay in their car would satisfy the criteria.

The San Antonio Express News has more on what limited religious gatherings are allowed:

Abbott classifies religious services at churches and other houses of worship as essential — in conflict with several counties’ orders, such those in Bexar and Harris.

The one in Harris County prompted a GOP activist and pastors to file suit Monday.

Abbott said the order overrides any put in place by local governments that are inconsistent with it, though cities and counties are free to issue stricter provisions in areas not mentioned in the statewide order, if they choose.

“To the extent, for example, that religious services are permitted, as specified in this executive order, they cannot be denied by a local ordinance or local order,” Abbott said. “However, to the extent that there are things that are not mentioned in this order, it still gives local jurisdictions the latitude to establish their own rules.”

If religious services can’t be conducted from home or remotely, the order states they can be held in person if congregants use social distancing and other cleanliness guidelines recommended by Trump and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Abbott added Tuesday that “drive-up services,” where congregants would remain in their cars, which some churches plan to use this Easter, would “satisfy the criteria that we’re talking about.”

Churches, synagogues and mosques in San Antonio and Bexar County technically can resume in-person religious services under Abbott’s order.

The governor's statement is not to encourage churches to go back to meeting.

It is up to each individual church to determine the safety in their community and how well they would be able to implement social distancing measures.

However, the governor wants to make sure that religious institutions of all faith are not punished if they are able to meet without endangering their congregants.

Despite being the 2nd most populated state in the country, Texas isn't even in the top 10 states based on confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Governor Abbott is exercising common sense judgement.

The entire state, much like the country, is not a sprawling metropolitan area.

There are geographical regious heavily impacted by COVID-19, but there are also regions that are relatively unscathed.

It's up to local communities to determine safety measures and whether they can creatively meet without putting anyone at risk.

Austin's KUT has specifics on what the governor's essential services declaration means:

Many religious groups often meet in large gatherings in one building, but that’s not what federal and state authorities are saying people should do during this pandemic. Under the governor’s order, houses of worship should conduct their services remotely whenever possible. That means via audio, video or teleconference.

What if a group can’t conduct a religious service remotely?

If a house of worship doesn’t have the technological or financial ability to provide remote service, Abbott's order says it should conduct its activities in accordance with White House guidelines.

That means:

Telling staff, volunteers and attendees to stay home if they are sick.

Maintaining appropriate distance between people (6 feet per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

Washing hands frequently, using hand sanitizer, coughing and sneezing into an elbow and not touching one's face.

Cleaning and disinfecting spaces frequently.

Some houses of worship must avoid gatherings.

The governor and attorney general say houses of worship should work with their city or county to evaluate the rate of local community spread of COVID-19 in their area and determine what level of mitigation strategies to implement. If a community is experiencing substantial community spread, all in-person gatherings of any size should be canceled, the guidance states.  

Community spread means people have been infected with the virus in that community, not from traveling, and they may not know where they got it.

Democrats have already begun criticizing Governor Abbott.

Still, it is remarkable that the second most populous state in the nation isn't even in the top 10 states of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

Texas has also been testing rapidly and frequently.

As of this writing, there are 3,266 coronavirus cases in 122 of Texas's 254 counties.

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