Election Day: Nov. 2, 2021 Early voting: Oct. 18-29


Vote AGAINST Proposition 3

To Protect Your Community

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Proposition 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment that will be on all Texas ballots this fall. The ballot lets you vote FOR or AGAINST this language:


The constitutional amendment to prohibit this state or a political subdivision of this state from prohibiting or limiting religious services of religious organizations.



Religious freedom is not a license to cause harm to others.

Prop 3’s language is absolute, without any exception. Under the guise of religious freedom, Prop 3 would tie the hands of state and local officials who are charged with protecting us from hazardous situations. That would put all Texans, including our religious communities, at risk. Allowing religious organizations to ignore or avoid common-sense public safety regulations could increase the danger to themselves and their neighbors.

Why Should I Vote AGAINST Prop 3?

●  Prop 3 would make it harder, if not impossible, for law enforcement, fire departments, code enforcers and other state and local officials to protect us. For example:

  • A mayor could not order houses of worship not to open in an area that’s flooded, has downed power lines or is under a shelter-in-place order due to a hazardous chemical release.
  • A police officer could not stop a service to move worshipers to a safer place or cordon off the area to keep worshipers away if a mass shooter was nearby.
  • A building inspector could not shut down a house of worship for failing to fix faulty wiring that makes the building unsafe for occupancy.


●  Our nation promises everyone the freedom to believe as they wish, but our laws cannot grant religious exemptions when they put public health and safety at risk. 

 

● Prop 3 would exempt houses of worship from public health and safety orders, but COVID-19, disasters and crime don’t exempt them. Not only could their members be imperiled, but they may be perceived as contributing to problems should they become super-spreader events or endanger first responders.


● Prop 3 is unnecessary. Its Senate author acknowledged during debate that it confirms rights that are already in the Texas Constitution, and federal and state laws already protect the right of houses of worship to hold religious services.

 

● A broad coalition of national faith groups from a variety of religious backgrounds released a statement opposing measures like Prop 3, emphasizing that blanket exemptions from emergency orders threaten harm to public health and safety.

 

● Multi-denominational groups of Texas faith leaders agree that religious freedom does not include a right to harm or endanger others, and their commitment to the health and well-being of their communities takes precedence over returning to their houses of worship.


● The US Supreme Court has made clear that governments can impose limitations on worship that are neutral and generally applicable—meaning that the law doesn't target religious institutions but treats religious and comparable secular activities the same.

What Elected Officials Are Saying

"Whether it’s our police or firefighters, code enforcement or other experts, they should have the ability to deem an area unsafe based on a published set of codes and due to the effects of a disaster or other set of overwhelming circumstances. ... There’s an expectation in the community that we’ve done our duty and if certain facilities are exempt from that, then the users of those facilities do not know whether they’re up to standard or not."

Lee Kleinman, Dallas City Council Member testifying before Texas House State Affairs Committee, 3-25-21


 "The First Amendment to the US Constitution has guaranteed religious freedom in this country for 230 years. The language of the proposed amendment . . . would make the protection of those religious rights more difficult. 

For example, the phrase 'a religious organization established to support and serve the propagation of a sincerely held religious belief' leaves open the question of who will determine if a religious belief is 'sincerely held.' Does one organization have more sincere beliefs than another? 

Under the proposed language, fire and police departments along with other emergency responders would not be able to evacuate or lock down a religious service to protect the lives and property of the attendees.

If Texas needs a constitutional amendment to protect the religious rights of its citizens, we need less ambiguous language that will stand the test of time." 

Russell Herron, Mayor, Hilshire Village

What Others Are Saying



Our laws already protect religious freedom, but a complete ban on limits to public worship puts too many at risk, the editorial board writes. "The (US Supreme) court has never gone so far as saying that no state interests can ever justify limiting religious services in public. Some dangers are just too large, and restrictions sufficiently reasonable, for such a blanket approach to make sense. Many faith leaders agree, and spoke out last spring against the legislation. We understand the desire to gather as a faith community, especially in challenging times — but houses of faith are connected to the global neighborhood of humanity. Proposition 3 allows churches to disregard public health and ties the hands of officials trying to keep people safe. Texans should reject it this fall." Houston Chronicle


"Texans of good conscience should reject Prop 3. ...Of course we cherish religious freedom. But Prop 3 goes too far, exempting houses of worship from ANY public safety measures that may be imposed in a health emergency." Austin American Statesman.


"While we recognize and value the importance of faith in the lives of many people — including members of this Editorial Board — we recommend voting against Proposition 3. Restrictions on religious services at the pandemic’s onset were not restrictions on practicing one’s faith but rather restrictions to protect public health. State and local governments should have that discretion since large church gatherings helped spread COVID-19." San Antonio Express-News


A poll last year found that 79% of U.S. adults said houses of worship should be required to follow the same rules about social distancing and large gatherings as other organizations or businesses in their local area.

This brief video by the League of Women Voters gives you the nitty-gritty about Prop 3.

What Faith Leaders Are Saying


"As longtime leaders of Houston houses of worship, we appreciate the desire to protect the right to worship and to gather in person for religious activities....Our faith teaches us that preserving human life is an even more fundamental value. That is why we are voting against Proposition 3 in this election…Voters looking at the ballot for the first time may think that Proposition 3 is a gift for the religious community, but nothing could be further from the truth." Rev. Dr. Jim Bankston, Pastor Emeritus at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, and David Lyon, Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel. Houston Chronicle, 10-25-21. Read full op-ed


Other Houston-area faith leaders who oppose Prop 3 include:

 The Rev. Dr. Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson, Presbyterian Church (USA), retired

Susan Quinn Bryan

 Master Monk Rev. Seido Francavilla, St. Nichiren Buddhist Temple

The Rev. Lisa Hunt, Rector, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Houston

Rev. Dan King, J.D., M.Div.

Minister Emeritus, First UU Church of Houston

Rev. Laura Mayo, Senior Minister of Covenant Church, Houston

The Rev. David A. Roschke, retired pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

Les Switzer


Read national faith organizations' statement opposing state legislation granting religious exemptions to emergency orders.


"As committed supporters of the constitutional principle of church-state separation, we believe in everyone’s right to worship according to their own conscience. However, religious freedom does not extend a right to harm others. . . Temporary restrictions equally applied to secular and religious gatherings do not impinge on religious freedom."

Statement by Houston faith leaders


"Heads up, Texans. There is an election on Nov. 2, and Proposition 3 will put worshippers in harm’s way...In our country, founded on the separation of church and state, the law should not be changed to codify the beliefs or practices of those who put religious law above the law of the land." Rabbi Nancy Kasten, chief relationship officer with Faith Commons in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News, 10-14-21. Read full op-ed


"The First Amendment is not absolute. Just as free speech does not permit someone to yell 'fire' in a crowded theater, so freedom of religion does not permit us to endanger the lives of others by asserting our right to gather and serve as we wish. The state has a compelling interest in protecting citizens against the mistaken decisions some might make in exercising their religious liberty. . .”

Statement by Dallas-area faith leaders, published in The Dallas Morning News, 4-25-20


"Houses of worship must practice high public health standards as an expression of love for one's neighbors." 

Rick McClatchy, Executive Director, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Texas 

What Legal Scholars Are Saying

"The idea behind this amendment is not at all crazy. But it is absolute, and that goes way too far. It would entirely disable the state in the face of potential grave emergencies, like Covid at its peak or even much worse."

Douglas Laycock. Professor of Law Emeritus at University of Texas, Robert E. Scott Distinguished Professor of Law at University of Virginia Law School and one of the nation's leading authorities on religious liberty. 10-2-21


“If people don't think through the consequences at all, I suspect most church-going people will vote in favor of it. … The new statutory and constitutional language would remove any flexibility for government to close churches even if it did have a compelling interest, even if we faced a pandemic far deadlier than COVID.”

Steven T. Collis, University of Texas law professor and director of its Law & Religion Clinic. Houston Chronicle, 10-18-21.


"Bans on all mass gatherings, including religious ones, are perfectly constitutional in the midst of a pandemic. The Supreme Court once noted that 'The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community...to communicable disease.' That sentiment still holds true today. Our constitutional rights are precious, but none of them are absolute – especially if exercising them endangers others."

Caroline Mala Corbin, Professor of Law and Dean’s Distinguished Scholar at the University of Miami School of Law. “Religious Liberty in a Pandemic: Constitutional Challenges to Mass Gathering Bans.” Canopy Forum, 10-2-20

What's the Harm in Allowing Religious Exemptions?

Indoor Church Services Are COVID-19 Hot Spots: Here’s Why

  • A number of COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred at churches throughout the country.
  • Experts say indoor church services are high risk for COVID-19 because people sit close together and many times don’t wear masks when they sing, pray, and talk.
  • They advise churches to hold shorter services and, when weather permits, to have their gatherings outdoors.


In mid-November, San Diego County had tied 64 cases to a church's three outbreaks. “We continue to implore the public of the very real danger of indoor religious services, the danger of the spread, and of the increase in cases and what it can lead to,” San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher said at a news conference.

A Charlotte church was the source of an outbreak last fall that spread to the community. More than 200 cases and 12 deaths, mostly among people who hadn't visited the church, were linked to church events, prompting the county to close the church until it agreed to restrictions

Massachusetts epidemiologists had tied 36 COVID-19 clusters and 316 confirmed cases to places of worship in that state through last November In one month, six clusters were tied to places of worship, and 200 positive cases were traced to one church, affecting over 75 businesses and 22 jurisdictions.


Read the full article from Healthline.com

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the separation of religion and government as the only way to ensure freedom of religion, including the right to believe or not believe, for all.


AU is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting and preserving separation of church and state

in the United States. 

Our Houston chapter, founded in 1995, promotes AU's mission in Houston and in Texas

through education, advocacy and collaboration with other local organizations, activists, faith leaders

and houses of worship.


Invite your friends to learn more about Americans United's fight to ensure that the government cannot tell Americans what to believe or how to practice their faith.

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