By David Marcus
On Nov. 2, Texas voters will be asked to vote on Proposition 3, which would prohibit state and local governments from adopting any measures that limit religious services held by a religious organization.
But Texas Proposition 3 — called by proponents the Prohibition on Limiting Religious Services or Organizations Amendment — is not what it appears to be. Under the guise of religious freedom, it would endanger both public health and safety by superseding measures that are designed to help keep people safe.
As a representative of Join Us for Justice, the El Paso Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, I also speak on behalf of Texas chapters throughout the state. We recommend that voters vote against Proposition 3.
We are strong supporters of religious liberty. We believe in the importance of faith and that our nation promises everyone the freedom to believe as they want. However, by removing provisions that would protect health and safety, this amendment ties the hands of local health enforcement agencies and hinders their ability to protect the public.
If it were to pass, Proposition 3 could have deadly consequences if the COVID-19 pandemic worsens or if we face a more contagious virus. If the state can’t temporarily limit gatherings, a crowded religious service could be a potential super-spreader of the virus, leading to other infections in unsuspecting members of the community.
Proposition 3 would also apply in non-pandemic scenarios. For example, a fire marshal might not be able to ensure that a church complies with occupancy limits and emergency exit requirements. Yet, the amendment would not apply to any other public institution in which health and safety limitations would still apply.
And in other cases of overcrowding, the potential for catastrophe is real if, for example, a natural disaster or human-made situation impairs the ability of people to leave a building quickly and safely.
This proposition prevents our governing agencies from imposing safety and health regulations at all times, but particularly during unforeseen events such as pandemics, natural disasters, accidents and other emergencies.
Federal and state laws already protect the right of houses of worship to hold religious services. Under the U.S. and Texas constitutions, the government can place limits on religious activities in emergency situations so long as such limitations are neutral and generally applicable or “narrowly tailored” to serve a “compelling” state interest. A constitutional amendment is not necessary, and would be cumbersome and time-consuming to undo — with catastrophic results a real possibility in the meantime.
Our nation promises everyone the freedom to believe or not believe as they wish. But our laws cannot grant religious exemptions that put public health and safety at risk.
Here is a short but informative video about Proposition 3 produced by the League of Women Voters of Texas.
Election Day is Nov. 2. Early voting begins Oct. 18. We urge you to oppose this amendment by voting against.
David Marcus is an El Paso certified public accountant. He is a board member and financial supporter of El Paso Matters.