Gov. Greg Abbott has signed the Freedom to Worship Act into law, which will ban government agencies and officials in Texas from shutting down houses of worship in the state for any reason.
“I just signed a law that prohibits any government agency or public official from issuing an order that closes places of worship,” Abbott wrote in a tweet on Tuesday, June 15.
“The First Amendment right to freedom of religion shall never be infringed,” the governor added.
The bill, known as HB 1239, passed the Texas House in April and the Senate in late May with wide bipartisan support, according to Tyler Morning Telegraph.
“A government agency or public official may not issue an order that closes or has the effect of closing places of worship in the state or in a geographic area of the state,” the bill reads.
Rep. Scott Sanford (R-McKinney), who filed the legislation, argued that, “Churches provide essential spiritual, mental and physical support in a time of crisis. Closing churches not only eliminated these critical ministries and services, but it violated their religious freedom, guaranteed by our laws and Constitution.”
About signed the legislation about one year after he issued an executive order that shut down Texas at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. At that time, churches and houses of worship were deemed as nonessential and forced to close. He was then sued.
After faith leaders called on Abbott to categorize the houses of worship as essential, Abbott reversed the order, allowing them to remain open during the shutdown.