Cornerstone Church sues San Antonio, Bexar County officials over school closure order

Lawsuit accuses San Antonio mayor of denying Christian school's 'freedom of religion'

John Hagee Cornerstone Church

SAN ANTONIO – Days after San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg told KSAT that Metro Health’s directive on schools should apply to private and religious schools, one local Christian school’s leaders decided to challenge it in court.

On Friday, Cornerstone Church Pastor John Hagee, along with other church leaders and Cornerstone Christian School parents, filed a lawsuit against Nirenberg, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, Metro Health and San Antonio Police Chief William McManus. The suit seeks a ruling from the court that would allow the megachurch’s school to open for in-person classroom instruction before the return date set for local schools by Metro Health.

On July 17, Metro Health issued an order barring face-to-face classes and extra-curricular activities at schools in Bexar County until after Sept. 7 to help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

In a Q&A with KSAT, Nirenberg said that religious schools should fall under the order.

But on July 22, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a non-binding opinion that local orders would not apply to religious schools. On Tuesday, Paxton went further, saying that it is his opinon that local health authorities do not have the ability to close any school, public or private.

Texas attorney offers contrasting opinion to AG Paxton’s statement on religious schools

Paxton’s July 22 letter is cited in the Cornerstone lawsuit.

“Mayor Ron Nirenberg knows that the Directive contradicts the guidance given by General Paxton, but he is undeterred in his desire to deny Plaintiffs their freedom of religion and is continuing to try and find ways to enforce the Directive against private, religious schools,” lawyers wrote in the court filing. Cornerstone attorneys argue that the directive is “illegal and unconstitutional.”

The church also accused the San Antonio Police Department of sending a “COVID code enforcement officer” who identified herself as “Officer Edwards.”

Edwards told the school’s principal that she was there to investigate a complaint that was logged on the city’s hotline, but would not provide specific details on the complaint. The officer toured the school and did not issue any citations, according to the court filing.

City Attorney Andy Segovia said city officials tried to work with religious schools on the directive but the city was sued before officials met with Cornerstone Church. Despite Paxton’s legal opinion on the local health directive, city officials said they will enforce the order if needed.

Coronavirus update San Antonio, July 28: Local officials say TEA, attorney general sending mixed messages to schools on reopening

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