Amid the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Texas, Governor Greg decided to include religious worship as an essential service. Abbott still encouraged churches to conduct their services online but said that if they must meet in person, they should follow the federal social-distancing guidelines on the news conference, Texas Tribune reported.
"I'm unaware of a church that would want its constituents, its parishioners, to be exposed to COVID-19, and I think there's enough public information right now for them to be aware of the practices that are needed to make sure that their members don't contract COVID-19," Abbott said in the interview afterward.
"States that have adopted 'stay-at-home' policies or even some that use 'shelter-in-place' are very close to ours, which is, if you had to put a label on it, it would be 'essential services and activities only,'" Abbott said. " "If you're not engaged in an essential service or activity, then you need to be at home for the purpose of slowing the spread of COVID-19." He added.
Churches, synagogues and mosques in San Antonio and Bexar County can technically reopen in-person religious services under Gov.Greg's order. However, many churches said they will continue to hold services online and abide by recommendations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 according to Houston Chronicle News.
Those provisions have come in the wake of criticism, largely from conservative religious leaders, that any order to close churches violates the First Amendment right to assemble. Two days after the arrest of a Tampa pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, who held worship services in defiance of a local ban on large gatherings, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis Wednesday said "attending religious services" is among the "essential" activities that would be permitted.
A pastor of Houston's Memorial Church of Christ, said he appreciates Abbott's recognition of the "importance of religion." But he added, "The second greatest command is to love our neighbors as ourselves. For me, at this moment, the way I love my neighbor is by giving them physical distance." Houston Chronicle reported.
There are also some religious groups who say it's their right to remain open because they believe they provide an essential service to their communities at a time of great need.
On San Antonio's East Side, a small church called Redeemer's Praise Church, is open 24/7 to deliver food and serving meals to people in their community, many of them experiencing homelessness. Pastor Shetigho Nakpodia, said to the Texas Tribune "If coronavirus doesn't kill them, starving will kill them."
To keep too many from being inside the church, Nakpodia said she'll probably just allow no more than 10 inside at a time and have them sit two chairs apart. If there's overflow, those people can hold worship outside, and her son can minister to them. Like everyone else, she said, she wants to do what it will take, including every precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But she sees no problem with people holding small Bible studies of two to four families in their homes. Faith is important, she said, to fighting the disease. "Without God, we cannot overcome this thing," Nakpodia said.
With nearly 4,700 confirmed cases and 70 deaths as of Thursday, many congregations across Texas, closed their doors of their own accord weeks ago and moved all services online.