By Thomas Cockes
ALLEN, Texas — Texans will vote on their election day Tuesday, Nov.2, on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would forbid the government from limiting or prohibiting religious services.
The bill (TX HB1239, also called Proposition 3) comes in response to government limitations on religious worship services that were enacted in the state during the COVID-19 pandemic. If passed, the amendment would add a clause to the state’s constitution prohibiting such government restrictions in the future.
Although the amendment has divided some religious groups in the state, it passed through both the Senate and the House of Representatives with unanimous support from Republican as well as a number of Democrats.
One of the original co-authors and supporters of the legislation is Republican representative Scott Sanford, who also serves as an executive pastor with Cottonwood Creek Church, a Southern Baptist congregation in Allen, Texas.
Sanford said he feels churches were “unfairly singled out,” by local government officials and that was “not constitutional or the right thing to do.”
“We felt this needed to be addressed, and we think this bill is a biblical and constitution way to address it,” he said. “It’s very practical that ministries need to have the stable and legal environment in which to operate. Now from a church perspective, if there is a flare-up in the virus or if another pandemic or something else comes along, we have the assurance of knowing we’ll be able to continue on.”
He believes the majority of Southern Baptist churches were doing their best to be safe and sensitive during the COVID pandemic, which made the government restrictions all the more frustrating.
“We really want to be responsible citizens and we want to do what’s best for the community and be respectful of their governments’ advice,” Sanford said. “If you look at evidence at how churches did operate when they were allowed to, they were very conscious of safety, because we love our people and we want them to be safe.
“Churches also do a lot to lower the burden of local government such as help with people suffering from addition or various domestic issues, and if the government had to take on all that burden themselves, they’d be overwhelmed. We are necessary and essential as it relates to the community.”
Sanford expects the amendment will pass in November.
In response to those who may believe the amendment is too overreaching or will have unintended consequences, Sanford said it boils down to the necessity and importance of the Church in society.
“It’s simply that the community is held together by a lot of different institutions and none are more critical than places of worship and the ministries they provide,” he said. “When you need us the most is sometimes when outsiders may think it would be a good time to close them.” B&R