Texas: Religious schools can ignore local health officials on covid-19

The Governor of Texas rightfully identified access to “religious services” as essential services, which must remain open even when other aspects of our communities must close to mitigate the spread of the virus. …

Recently, however, local public health officials have begun to issue orders restricting or limiting in-person instruction in private and public schools. This guidance is intended to clarify the application of those local orders to religious private schools and institutions.

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. 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. Moreover, local public health orders attempting to restrict the provision of religious instruction through religious private schools violate the United States and Texas Constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

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