NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton provided guidance to local governments and the public about rules involving religious services, hours before the Governor’s new statewide order takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Thursday.
The Governor’s coronavirus emergency order and the orders from some North Texas cities and counties conflict with each other over religious services.
Under the Governor’s order, wherever possible, houses of worship must transmit their services through audio or video.
But the order makes exceptions for those that can’t and allows for in-church services as long as they follow strict CDC guidelines and the Governor’s orders.
They include groups no larger than ten, that each person is six feet apart, which is the proper social distancing, and that they tell church employees and members who are sick to stay home.
READ STATE’S GUIDANCE FOR HOUSES OF WORSHIP HERE
Some cities and counties only allow religious services be transmitted through audio, video and teleconferencing.
On Wednesday, the pastor of the Kingdom Life Church in Frisco, Brandon Burden, asked the city to change its emergency order to comply with Governor Abbott’s new statewide restrictions.
Hours later, the city said it will comply.
That paves the way for the church to have a drive-in service, where parishioners can go to the church parking lot and stay in their own vehicles and listen to the sermon via a FM transmitter.
This wasn’t allowed under the city’s previous order.
Hiram Sasser, Executive General Counsel of the First Liberty Institute represents the church.
“Although no one is interacting with each other in a drive-in scenario, I think people feel better at least when they can see each other through the glass in other cars,” he said. “They can feel like they’re part of some larger community rather than isolated in their homes.”
Sasser said the cities were trying to do the right thing but that churches faced an “unequal and adverse impact.”
Sasser said they want to make sure everyone can be safe without violating the First Amendment.
“Our whole goal was just to make sure that the cities are trying to do this, are doing it well and that all the churches are complying with CDC guidelines and the Governor’s order,” he said.
Dallas City Council members sought legal advice about the Governor’s order from the city attorney during an executive session.
But when council members returned to open session, they didn’t discuss it.
Mayor Eric Johnson’s emergency order mirrors the one implemented by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.
It doesn’t allow in-church services — only those transmitted via audio, video, or teleconference.
No word Wednesday evening about the status of the city’s order.
During a media briefing late Wednesday afternoon, Judge Jenkins said he had encouraged houses of worship that don’t have the technology to reach out to larger churches to see if they could provide help.
Cities and counties can impose additional restrictions as long as they don’t conflict with Governor Abbott’s orders.