I have three things to say about this.
A hardline conservative power broker and three area pastors filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court Monday arguing that Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo’s stay-at-home order violates the Constitution by ordering the closure of churches and failing to define gun shops as “essential” businesses.
The emergency petition for a writ of mandamus, filed by anti-LGBTQ Republican activist Steven Hotze and pastors Juan Bustamante, George Garcia and David Valdez, contends Hidalgo’s order undercuts the First Amendment by limiting religious and worship services to video or teleconference calls. Pastors also may minister to congregants individually.
Hotze and the pastors argue the order also “severely infringes” on Second Amendment rights by closing gun stores. The order does not define gun shops as essential businesses, though Attorney General Ken Paxton issued an opinion Friday that stay-at-home orders cannot force gun stores to close or otherwise restrict sales or transfers.
Hidalgo’s order, issued March 24, 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 directive is aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and it came a day after chief executives at the Texas Medical Center unanimously called for the county to implement a shelter-in-place order.
Hidalgo spokesman Rafael Lemaitre declined to address “the specifics of the litigation,” but said: “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. We continue to urge folks to take this seriously.”
First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said county officials view the order as “necessary to deal with the extraordinary crisis that Harris County, Texas and the country are facing as a result of the coronavirus.”
Soard said the order does not intend to close gun stores and “we’ve not advised any gun stores to close, as far as I’m aware.” He also said Paxton’s opinion makes clear that gun shops in Texas will remain open.
As for the First Amendment challenge, Soard said there is “nothing in the order that prevents churches from broadcasting” services. He said Hidalgo crafted the order “as precisely or narrowly as she could to allow people to worship as they choose.”
1. If Hotze and his band of idiots were only putting their own health and lives at risk, I wouldn’t care. Hell, I’d cheer them on, from a sufficiently safe distance. But as we’ve said many times, that’s not how viruses work. They would be putting many other people in jeopardy. They may not care about that, but they don’t get to make that kind of decision unilaterally.
2. Even if the courts stop them, Hotze is still working to put other people in danger:
In a video posted to YouTube late last month, Hotze advised that people take multivitamins and not worry about the virus, which he said is “all media hype” and “fake news.”
Hotze then compared the virus to the flu or dysentery, and accused democrats of having “weaponized the coronavirus” to hurt President Donald Trump.
Marc Boom, CEO of Houston Methodist, called the lawsuit “disheartening” and “reckless,” and said it is “potentially endangering lives.”
I’m old enough to remember when behavior like that was considered to be un-Christian.
3. I’ll leave the last word to this guy:
UH constitutional law prof Peter Linzer, not mincing words about the petition challenging Harris Co’s stay-at-home order, says in phone intvw that govt “can’t let stupid people kill themselves.”
He says the order is OK legally b/c churches can still meet thru video/phone/1-on-1
— Jasper Scherer (@jaspscherer) 7:40 PM – 30 March 2020
‘Nuff said. A copy of the lawsuit is embedded in the story. The county should be filing its response today.