Note: Included opinions are from February 11, 2021 through March 10, 2021.
KP-0362 (COVID-19): Both state and federal law provide broad constitutional protections for religious freedom. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .” Article I, section 6 of the Texas Constitution provides: “No human authority ought, in any case whatever, to control or interfere with the rights of conscience in matters of religion . . . .” Furthermore, under the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a government agency is prohibited from placing a substantial burden on a person’s free exercise of religion unless the agency shows that the application of the burden is the least restrictive means of furthering a compelling governmental interest.
If an individual desires to see a member of the clergy as part of his or her religious exercise, prohibiting access to that member except when death is imminent places a substantial burden on the individual’s religious exercise.
Stemming the spread of COVID-19 is unquestionably a compelling government interest. However, to the extent that other less restrictive safety protocols further the government’s interest in stemming the spread of COVID-19, a court would likely conclude that prohibiting an individual’s access to clergy only when facing death violates the state and federal constitutions and the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act because it is not the least restrictive means of achieving such compelling interest.
KP-0360 (Nepotism): Neither the nepotism statute in chapter 573 of the Government Code nor the conflict-of-interest statute in chapter 171 of the Local Government Code prohibit the county judge’s brother from running for sheriff in the described circumstances.
KP-0355 (Conflict of Interest): The conflict-of-interest requirements of Section 171.004(a) of the Local Government Code do not apply to a city council member voting on a county matter even though the council member is married to the county tax assessor-collector.