Bartie ‘strongly’ opposes worship congregation despite Gov. Abbott’s order

Published 6:25 pm Friday, April 3, 2020

Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie issued a simple request Friday to churchgoers and other congregants of the city’s houses of worship: “Don’t go to church.”

The licensed minister made the plea during a news conference just outside city hall as he commented on the extension of the city’s “Stay at Home, Work Safe” order that mirrors Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order.

Abbott’s order, which was updated Tuesday, lists religious services as essential; however, it recommends all houses of worship conduct services through “remote telework” (audio or video conferencing).

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Judge Jeff Branick signed an addendum reflecting that change to Jefferson County’s order on Friday.

Bartie’s original order, signed last week, disallowed services in parking lots and services of 10 or more people in a house of worship.

While the governor’s order does not specify a limit of attendees in a worship setting, those who conduct and participate in services are asked to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines regarding social distancing.

“I support Gov. Abbott in his attempt to enhance worship experiences, respecting his decision to override provisions of my original order,” Bartie said. “I, Thurman ‘Bill’ Bartie, mayor of the city of Port Arthur, Texas, strongly discourage any house of worship (faith, denomination or belief) opening its doors and allowing persons to congregate in any numeric dimension inside of the edifice set aside and consecrated for worshipping.”

Even if worship services were held outdoors and social distancing were observed, Bartie stands against that.

“I think the governor meant well, but had I been the governor, I’d have made it very explicit, totally, ‘No, you shouldn’t go.’ But maybe the governor has to deal with pressure I don’t understand. We’re dealing with the people we’re closest to. I know if I don’t take this position four or five months down the road, that could be something that could bring a demise to my political career, simply because of that. That’s why I simply stay where I am on this. Please, don’t go to church.”

District 2 Councilman Cal Jones took a different stance.

“You go to church believing and having faith the Lord will take care of you,” he said. “You pray day and night for the Lord to sustain you. If you pray day and night for the Lord to sustain you, and you always say you want to be on the battlefield for the Lord, if you’re going to leave here, if you’re going to die, what better way than to die on the battlefield for the Lord? The mayor and I talked about it before we came out here, and he understood where I stand on that.”

Jones added he believes 10 or more persons should be allowed to congregate inside if they wear masks.

“I don’t see no problem meeting them in the parking lot, surely in the parking lot with the pastor having a loudspeaker preaching to the people,” Jones said.

Bartie also announced Friday that city hall is closed as a precaution against coronavirus. City services are still available by visiting

Bartie was asked if he believes citizens should wear facemasks in public.

President Trump said Friday the CDC recommends the use of masks in public.

“I have my mask in the car, and I put it on at my discretion,” Bartie said. “If they have the availability to get them, it may be wise to use them. I don’t want to say I’m ordering you at this point, but maybe by next Friday, we may have to order them to do it, because some cities here in Texas have added that to their ordinances.”

In those cities, anyone who is infected with COVID-19 who is outdoors and does not wear a mask is in violation, Bartie explained.

Port Arthur went up to 13 confirmed cases of coronavirus and Jefferson County was up to 51 as of Friday evening.

“As these numbers increase, so should our diligence increase,” Bartie said. “The whole state of Texas is next in line to be one of the hotbed states for COVID, and I don’t really want us to have that distinction, and you shouldn’t want us to have it.”

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

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