SAN ANTONIO – A Texas lawyer is offering contrasting opinions to a statement state Attorney General Ken Paxton made involving the fate of thousands of students in our area amid the pandemic.
Paxton said religious schools do not have to abide by guidelines restricting in-person classes because of the U.S. and Texas constitutions and the Texas Freedom of Religion Act.
“I don’t think it’s a blanket rule either way,” said Matthew Manning, an attorney with Webb and Cason PC. “Even in the law that is cited by Mr. Paxton, the Religious Freedom Act, there is a note that says governments can impose restrictions as long as they’re the least restrictive imposition.”
The opinion comes after Paxton authored a letter, which said, “When the Governor issued orders applicable to public schools, he expressly acknowledged that private schools and institutions have the freedom to make their own decisions.”
Manning said extenuating circumstances affect that clause.
“I will say that governments do have the ability to put some imposition on religious practice where it is a compelling state interest. And that’s clearly what you have here,” Manning said, adding that there are other factors to consider.
“There are students who attend religious schools that don’t actually adhere to that religion,” Manning said. “And in that respect, the question becomes, ‘How do you reconcile their interest in not being in a situation where they could potentially be exposed unreasonably to this virus with the institution’s interest in being able to potentially have some kind of religious exercise?’”
Because of the pandemic’s unprecedented nature, Manning said only time will tell the likelihood of litigations that may arise out of these types of blanket-mandated decisions.