LUBBOCK, Texas — When Pastor Ed Ainsworth’s congregation celebrated Easter last year, their usual pews sat empty. Ainsworth was busy preparing virtual sermons and dropping children’s lessons off at his congregants’ houses — creative adaptations to public health mandates that shuttered the doors of his Generations Church on University Ave.
“I’ve never worked harder in my life as a pastor,” Ainsworth recalled of the months his church was prohibited from operating in-person. “My wife and I were online from 7:00 to 7:30 every day for 92 days.”
To slow the spread of COVID-19, Lubbock County was among the Texas jurisdictions that joined Gov. Abbott in issuing stay-at-home orders that prohibited religious services from gathering. Texas’ Proposition 3 aims to restrict governments from issuing such limitations in the future.
Lubbock State Senator Charles Perry co-authored SJR 27, which passed the Texas Legislature in May to place the proposition on this election’s ballot. That resolution passed both chambers with wide bipartisan support — 28-2 in the Senate and 108-33 in the House of Representatives. Pastor Ainsworth says, while he does not presume to tell anyone how to vote, he will be voting for it.
“I believe the doors need to be open in times of crisis,” he said. “Many of [our congregants] suffered when someone died. Who were they going to grieve with? It would just be good to have a place to go to and say, ‘hey I can get some help, some hope, some encouragement from that place.'”
Critics of the proposal worry it would strip Texas governments of the powers necessary to protect public health during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. Some representatives also worried the ballot language is too broad, exempting religious organizations from all restrictions with favor not afforded to secular organizations. Of the major newspaper editorial boards endorsing ballot items in this election, The Dallas Morning News is the only publication to endorse Proposition 3.
Pastor Ainsworth believes the public health mandates came at the expense of other public interests.
“I saw so many people suffer mentally and emotionally from isolation,” he said. “It has affected people from the mental aspect. There’s lots of talk about mental health, it’s an important issue.”
Early voting runs until 8:00 P.M. on Friday, October 29th. Election Day is November 2nd. As of Tuesday, October 26, the Lubbock County Elections Office reported 5,968 people have voted in this election — approximately 3.3 percent of registered voters. Constitutional amendments require two-thirds of each legislative chamber and a majority of Texas voters to pass.