In response to possible confusion in El Paso County due to the “Stay at Home” Order issued by County Judge Ricardo Samaniego on on October 29, the Texas Pastor Council has issued a clarification to assure churches that they can continue to meet and are exempt from the order.
The council has been working directly with officials from the governor’s and Attorney General’s offices to develop, post, and communicate churches’ options to be conduct worship services and ministry activities.
The Attorney General issued guidelines on April 27, which states that “religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship” and religious institutions as providing essential services, which can continue to remain open during the state’s ongoing shutdown.
“To the extent there is conflict between Executive Order GA 18 [Gov. Abbot’s executive order] and local orders, GA 18 controls,” the Attorney General’s guidance states. “Local governments may not order houses of worship to close.”
Keeping in line with the Attorney General’s guidance, County Judge Samaniego’s order includes churches as essential services in Section 7.b.vii: “Religious services including those conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship; however, given the critical condition of the community battling COVID-19 it is strongly encouraged that services be provided remotely.”
In the “Revised Guidance for Houses of Worship During the COVID-19 Crisis 3.0” published by the Attorney General’s office, all recommendations like social distancing practices are guidelines only and NOT mandates.
Judge Samanego’s order does not infringe on the ability of pastors and churches to decide to have in-person, in-facility worship services and church activities, the council notes.
It is urging pastors to go to www.uspastorcouncil.org to review and download the governor’s related orders and guidelines that are still in place, including checklists and testimonies from pastors who never closed their church doors (and subsequently did not need to reopen) from around the state.
TXPC is the Texas affiliate of U.S. Pastor Council, an inter-racial, inter-denominational coalition of local pastor councils to bring a united, biblical voice to social, cultural, moral, and policy issues.