The information contained in this Know Your Rights content is subject to change as state and local governments respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please check the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) coronavirus information page for information about the virus and current statewide restrictions, as well as information from your local health department.
This content is intended to serve as general information; it is not legal advice nor intended as legal advice.
As the COVID-19 pandemic persists across Texas and the entire country, it has prompted local, state and federal governments to respond in order to protect public health. This includes implementing orders that require people to wear a mask or face covering to help slow the spread of this deadly virus.
The ACLU of Texas urges everyone to read and follow their local and state public health orders for the sake of their own wellbeing and the safety of the entire community. Learn more about what your rights are, and how to protect them, even during a public health crisis.
What public health orders are currently in effect?
Governor Greg Abbott lifted many of the restrictions on Texas residents and businesses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Under Executive Order GA-34, which went into effect on March 10, 2021, there are no more occupancy limits on businesses in most parts of the state, and wearing a mask or face covering is no longer required under state law. However, every person in Texas is still “strongly encouraged to wear face coverings over the nose and mouth wherever it is not feasible to maintain six feet of social distancing from another person not in the same household.”
This executive order replaces Abbott’s previous restrictions related to COVID-19, but it does not strip away all authority from federal and local governments. Wearing a mask is still required on federal property and when traveling across state lines. Public schools and other local government agencies must follow the guidance set by their governing bodies. Local governments also have the ability to set occupancy limits and impose other restrictions if COVID-19 patients account for more than 15% of local hospital capacity.
Can businesses, schools and other public places still require masks?
The latest executive order makes clear that businesses, schools and other places open to the public may require people to wear masks and follow safety measures like social distancing. In the same way that customers may be required to wear shoes and a shirt to receive service, businesses can ask customers to wear masks for the safety of their employees and other customers. If a customer refuses to wear a mask, the business can ask that person to leave. And if that person does not comply, they could be subject to civil or criminal penalties for trespass, which can result in a Class B misdemeanor that is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $2,000 fine.
Are stay home and mask orders constitutional?
Likely, yes. Although there have been lawsuits challenging certain provisions of stay home and mask orders, most courts have upheld their constitutionality because state and local governments have authority to provide for public health, welfare and safety.
However, the government's power is not unlimited; you still have constitutional rights under these types of orders. The U.S. Supreme Court tells us as much, stating that the Constitution still applies even in times of crisis. As governments respond to this public health crisis, the measures they take to protect public health can still be examined in court and cannot be used to suppress free expression or your constitutional rights.
Do I still have a right to protest during this pandemic?
Yes! Your right to peacefully assemble, protest and petition the government are essential constitutional rights that do not disappear during a pandemic. While state and local governments may impose reasonable restrictions on the time, manner and means of a protest, they cannot ban protests entirely, especially when some gatherings are still permitted across the state.
You can also find additional Know Your Rights information on Free Speech and the Right to Protest by clicking here.