See you in court: Pastors challenge US govt on church closures

A gospel choir performs during the service of an evangelical church. (Reuters pic)

HOUSTON: Three pastors are challenging the constitutionality of a stay-at-home order issued by Texas officials in the county that includes Houston, saying the mandate improperly tramples on individual freedoms by closing churches and failing to designate gun stores “essential” businesses.

The pastors — along with a conservative activist — filed a request with the Texas Supreme Court Monday in one of the first challenges to stay-at-home orders in the country.

More than 250 million people in at least 30 states are being urged to stay home to curtail the spread of the pandemic.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott hasn’t issued a state-wide order but local restrictions have been put in place in Dallas and Houston.

In general, state and local governments have broad powers to place such restrictions in place on non-essential businesses and gatherings.

“This order strikes at First Amendment liberties all citizens enjoy,” said Jared Woodfill, a lawyer for the pastors. “People are using this pandemic as justification to infringe on personal liberties people fought and died for.”

A spokesperson for Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who issued the stay-home order earlier this month, said the measure was legally proper.

“Public health and science must drive our response, and the science is clear: If we fail to take adequate steps to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, people will die,” said Rafael Lemaitre, a spokesman for Hidalgo.