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Texas governor deems religious services essential as police arrest southern pastors for holding Sunday services

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Mary Margaret Olohan on April 1, 2020

As authorities arrest pastors for holding Sunday services in defiance of social distancing orders, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced Tuesday that religious services are to be considered essential in his state.

Abbott issued an executive order relating to state-wide continuity of essential services and activities during the coronavirus pandemic. The order mandated that all Texans will minimize social gatherings and in-person contact with people who are not in the same household, and, among other statutes, clarified that religious services conducted in churches, congregations and houses of worship are to be considered essential services.

“‘Essential services’ shall consist of everything listed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in its Guidance on the Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce, Version 2.0, plus religious services conducted in churches, congregations, and houses of worship,” the order stated. “Other essential services may be added to this list with the approval of the Texas Division of Emergency Management.”

The governor encouraged those involved in essential services to practice good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, sanitation, social distancing and working from home when possible.

Abbott’s order came as authorities arrested pastors in Louisiana and Florida for holding Sunday services and bused large groups of people to attend the services.

Central Police Chief Roger Corcoran called Rev. Tony Spell of the Louisiana Life Tabernacle Church “reckless and irresponsible” for holding Sunday services, and Florida Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister called megachurch pastor Rodney Howard-Browne’s actions “reckless disregard of public safety.”

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