Texas Passes 8 Amendments to State Constitution, Strengthens Religious Freedom

Texans turned out to vote earlier this week, approving all eight proposed changes to the state constitution, including one that limits the government’s authority to regulate religious ceremonies, particularly during pandemics.

  • The Texas Secretary of State has announced the unofficial results of the vote, which took place on Nov. 2 and was required to approve the amendments, which were earlier passed as bills during the legislative session, according to The Epoch Times.
  • Two of the propositions were created explicitly in response to Covid-19 restrictions.
  • Proposition 3 amends Article 1 of the Texas Constitution by adding a new section prohibiting the state, or any political subdivision of the state, from enacting any laws prohibiting or limiting religious services, including those conducted in churches, congregations, and other places of worship, which received 62.4 percent of the vote.
  • Proposition 6, which was also enacted in reaction to pandemic limitations, permits patients of nursing homes and other long-term care institutions to choose a “essential caregiver” who is not prohibited from visiting them in person. With 88% of the vote in favor, the proposition was approved.
  • Measures allowing charity raffles at rodeos, authorizing counties to issue bonds to fund infrastructure projects, limiting school district property taxes for surviving spouses of persons with disabilities, expanding eligibility for residential homestead property tax exemptions, and changing the eligibility requirements to serve on the Texas Supreme Court are among the other amendments.

Some backers of Proposition 3 argued that places of worship provided essential services and, as such, should be exempt from pandemic-related closures, like grocery stores.

“When the restrictions were put on the church, it crossed the line from what we could do, which was buy groceries, and what we couldn’t do, which was worship as we want to worship,” state Sen. Donna Campbell, a Republican, said in April, according to the Texas Tribune.

“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,” said state Rep. Scott Sanford, a Republican, the Texas Tribune reported.

Opponents argued that the measure hampered the ability of authorities to mount an effective response to emergencies, like outbreaks of infectious disease.

Amanda Tyler, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee, told Sight Magazine in October that Proposition 3 sends “a damaging message that religious people are more concerned about special treatment than they are about the good of their communities.”

“I would hope that the voters of Texas would understand the strong protections for free exercise that they already enjoy and understand that this extra provision in the Constitution is unnecessary, over broad, and could actually jeopardize the health and safety of their communities,” she added.

Texas state Rep. John Turner, a Democrat, told The Texan in May that, while he’s “a very strong supporter of religious liberty” he objected to the language of the amendment as excessive, saying, “for instance, that would mean there could never be any restrictions on capacity.”

Kevin Warren, president and chief executive officer of the Texas Health Care Association, told KXAN that the association “supports the measure as it recognizes the importance of in-person relationships while maintaining a facility’s ability to take the necessary steps to protect during a potential community health risk.”

“We appreciate the support for the long-term care profession and the heroes that take care of our most vulnerable Texans every day,” he added.

State Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, a Republican, wrote in a May letter (pdf) that, “visiting a loved one in a nursing home should be a right, not a privilege.”

“If another health emergency occurs, our state’s caregivers will always have a way to safely go inside a facility for scheduled visits and ensure that their loved one’s physical, social, and emotional needs are being met,” Kolkhorst added.