Pointing to the U.S. Constitution and state law, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton last week issued a letter prohibiting local governments from closing private religious schools during the pandemic.
The letter, issued July 17 and addressed to “religious private schools in Texas,” said Paxton “acknowledges the robust constitutional and statutory protections unique to religious individuals and communities at all times.”
Local governments, he said, are prohibited under the governor’s orders from closing Christian and other religious schools during the pandemic.
“Local public health officials have begun to issue orders restricting or limiting in-person instruction in private and public schools,” Paxton wrote. “... Local public health orders issued by cities and counties must be consistent with the Governor’s orders and the Attorney General’s guidance. If local public health orders are inconsistent with these authorities, the local orders must yield.
“Under the Governor’s orders, local governments are prohibited from closing religious institutions or dictating mitigation strategies to those institutions,” he added. “Local governments are similarly prohibited from issuing blanket orders closing religious private schools. Because a local order closing a religious private school or institution is inconsistent with the Governor’s order, any local order is invalid to the extent it purports to do so.”
Religious schools, he wrote, are “protected by the First Amendment and Texas law.”
Paxton also quoted a recent Supreme Court opinion in which the majority ruled, “[T]he First Amendment protects the right of religious institutions ‘to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.”
Mat Staver, founder and chairman of the legal group Liberty Counsel, applauded Paxton’s guidance.
“I am pleased to see Texas Attorney General Paxton reminding local governments of the Constitution,” Staver said. “Many have operated as though the Constitution is quarantined during a pandemic. But I have news – the Constitution is alive and well.”
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.