Here's why New Braunfels is allowing limited, in-person religious services, despite coronavirus concerns

First Protestant Church of New Braunfels was founded in 1845. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)
First Protestant Church of New Braunfels was founded in 1845. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)

First Protestant Church of New Braunfels was founded in 1845. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)

An email exchange between New Braunfels Mayor Barron Casteel and a retired physician sheds new light on the city's enforcement of Gov. Greg Abbott's most recent executive order.

Abbott's order allows religious services to be provided as they typically would be outside of the current pandemic, with the caveat that "houses of worship must, whenever possible, conduct their activities from home or through remote audio or video services."

New Braunfels had prohibited houses of worship from providing in-person religious services since March 26, when Casteel issued a local stay-at-home order.

The city of New Braunfels issued a supplemental order April 1 that amends this initial order to include the full list of services deemed essential by the Texas governor, including religious services.

Marilyn Aden, a retired internist, practiced medicine in Chicago but is now a New Braunfels resident. In an email sent on Thursday, April 2, she expressed her dismay to Casteel over the city's orders being rolled back to such an extent.

"Even a few extra infections now will significantly increase death and chaos in a few weeks," Aden said in her email to Casteel.

Aden's opinion of the city's response to the coronavirus had been more favorable just a few days earlier, although she expressed in a phone interview that the measures weren't strong enough even before the governor's order went into effect.

"I was very pleased to see how proactive the city had been earlier—closing the playgrounds, rivers, restaurants, etc.," Aden said in her email to Casteel. "Please don’t loosen our protections now."

However, it's required by state law for all 254 Texas counties and their municipal governments to do so.

"There have been a number of necessary changes to the city of New Braunfels response measures due to the Governor and Texas Attorney General Paxton's preemption," Casteel said in an email to Aden on April 2. "I, too, share the same concerns; however, any city of New Braunfels response measures in conflict with Gov. Abbott's executive orders must be amended to avoid such conflict."

In response to the state's preemption, New Braunfels is promoting guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since Casteel responded to her email, Aden believes that the mayors hands are tied on the matter.

"I'm really sorry that our governor doesn't have a little better judgment," Aden said. "I think it's going to be a very bad scene. I feel very sorry for the doctors and nurses who are still working."

Casteel said that because of the governor's order, New Braunfels' code enforcement, New Braunfels Fire Department and the New Braunfels Police Department will be forced to make additional direct contact with people who aren't adhering to social distancing requirements set forth by the CDC.

"Unfortunately, our response measures are specifically designed for the unreasonable actor," Casteel said.

Aden believes the government's projection of 240,000 deaths in the country is far too conservative because of a hesitance to institute strict enough restrictions.

"The city of New Braunfels is continuing to plan and make preparations for the additional needs of our community during this public health disaster," Casteel said in his email to Aden. "All plans and preparations are being done with the direction of our medical health care professionals. While I pray that these plans will not be necessary please know that your city is committed to these preparations as if the need is a forgone conclusion."


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