An anti-LGBTQ activist and three local pastors filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court on March 30, arguing that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order violates the Constitution by ordering the closure of churches.
Steven Hotze, leader of the Conservative Republicans of Texas (which is considered an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center), and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia, and David Valdez believe that Hidalgo’s order infringes on the First Amendment by limiting religious worship services to videos or conference calls. The men also contend that the order undercuts Second Amendment rights by closing gun stores, according to a Houston Chronicle report.
“People of faith are prohibited from worshiping in person, most private businesses are prevented from operating, gun shops are ordered closed, and people are not allowed to associate together in groups—these are some of the individual freedoms Judge Hidalgo has chosen to sacrifice,” the petition reads.
Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order, issued on March 24 to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), requires most businesses to close and directs residents to stay home unless they are getting groceries, running crucial errands, exercising, or going to work at a business deemed essential. The order complies with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines to cancel gatherings of more than 10 people for organizations that serve higher-risk populations.
In the petition, Hotze and the pastors argue that “the circumstances presented by coronavirus do not excuse unlawful government infringements.” The men also say that Hidalgo’s order favors some exempt businesses, including liquor stores, janitorial staff, and furniture suppliers.
“Because her hand-picked losers have been shuttered, her self-identified winners are allowed to thrive while other private businesses are closed indefinitely,” the petition reads.
The Chronicle reports that the court has given Harris County until Tuesday to respond to the emergency petition, according to Jared Woodfill, the attorney representing Hotze and the pastors.