Texas AG’s exemption for religious schools endangers students and staff

1Ken PaxtonThe Freedom From Religion Foundation condemns Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton for his special treatment of the state’s religious schools — recklessly risking students and staff alike.

In an open letter, Paxton, who is currently facing felony criminal charges for securities fraud, told religious private schools in Texas that they may ignore Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent mask mandate and “need not comply with local health orders” designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Paxton’s exemption for religious schools is needlessly dangerous. The state has the ability — and a duty — to protect public health during a pandemic by limiting the spread of deadly viruses. Reasonable, science-based restrictions on gatherings that happen to encompass churches or religious schools are legal. Contrary to Paxton’s letter, the state is not required to carve out an exemption for religious schools.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court cases highlight the hypocrisy of Paxton’s position. In Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue, the court held that religious schools were entitled to taxpayer funds made available to other private schools on the theory that they must be treated “equally” with secular private schools. In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru, the court held that religious schools were allowed to discriminate against teachers who taught secular classes.

In the name of equality and religious freedom, Texas religious schools may be eligible in future for public funds, and may discriminate under Guadalupe with impunity. That is not equality; it’s religious privilege. Now Paxton asserts that those same schools must be given special treatment when it comes to public health orders. Paxton wants religious private schools to enjoy all of the benefits of the separation between state and church, but none of the burdens. Despite the cries for “equal treatment,” religious schools that do not want to follow rules to keep kids and teachers safe will be given a free pass by Paxton.

FFRF is disappointed, but not surprised, by the irresponsible conduct of Texas’ theocratic attorney general. His recklessness betrays long-standing constitutional principles and endangers public health.

Photo by Alice Linahan via Wikimedia

The Freedom From Religion Foundation, based in Madison, Wis., a 501(c)(3) nonprofit educational charity, is the nation's largest association of freethinkers (atheists, agnostics), and has been working since 1978 to keep religion and government separate.

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