CNA Staff, Jul 20, 2020 / 15:12 pm
The attorney general of Texas on Friday told religious private schools in the state that local governments are not allowed to order them to close or to dictate COVID-19 precautionary measures to them.
"[A]s protected by the First Amendment and Texas law, religious private schools may continue to determine when it is safe for their communities to resume in-person instruction free from any government mandate or interference. Religious private schools therefore need not comply with local public health orders to the contrary," Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote in a July 17 letter.
Paxton said local public health ordinances must be consistent with the governor's orders and the attorney general's guidance, adding that local governments are "prohibited from closing religious institutions or dictating mitigation strategies to those institutions."
Paxton cited the U.S. and Texas state constitutions, as well as the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, in asserting that the state cannot "substantially burden" the free exercise of religion, which includes the ability of faith communities to educate their youth, "unless it can demonstrate a compelling interest for the restriction and prove it applies in the least restrictive way."