Trump demands governors allow churches to open
President Trump on Friday ordered governors to allow houses of worship to open immediately, declaring them “essential” to American life during COVID-19.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend,” Trump said during brief remarks at the White House that his press shop had touted as a briefing.
Trump took no questions, however, and left immediately after his brief statement.
“If they don’t do it I will override the governors. America, we need more prayer, not less,” he said.
Even as states allow businesses to reopen, restrictions on churches and houses of worship remain in place in some states, frustrating Trump and religious conservatives.
While Trump is legally unable to override these state orders, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has been pressuring governors to treat houses of worship the same as secular institutions in reopening plans.
DOJ attorneys told California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) this week that his reopening plan amounted to “unequal treatment of faith communities” by allowing restaurants, schools, malls and other businesses to open sooner than religious institutions.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right,” Trump said Friday.
However, public health experts warn that houses of worship are uniquely prone to becoming sources of COVID-19 infection in their communities if strict social distancing requirements aren’t followed.
“You have to be careful, it depends on the particular state, city, region, county that you’re in, and what the dynamics of the outbreak are,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top infectious disease expert and member of the White House coronavirus expert, told The Hill Friday.
“So if you’re in an area where there’s a relatively little infection, as there are in certain regions of the country, versus an area where there is still a high degree of infection, how you approach what you do in houses of worship really varies.”
Some governors have maintained that houses or worship can open in some capacity in later stages of reopening after the rate of COVID-19 transmission has slowed further.
Trump said Friday the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would issue guidance to houses of worship on safely reopening. His top advisers reportedly blocked the CDC from issuing guidance earlier, worrying it was too prescriptive of religious institutions.
While the CDC issued recommendations this week on safely reopening schools, workplaces and businesses, houses of worship were missing from the guidance.
The guidance, issued Friday after Trump’s remarks, recommended churches limit the size of gatherings, maintain distance between parishioners and ask members to wear face coverings. However, it emphasized that the guidance is “non-binding” and “for consideration only.
A report issued by the CDC this week said 38 people who attended an Arkansas church service in early March became sick with coronavirus and three died, showing how easily the virus can spread in such settings. Social distancing requirements were not yet in place, which are intended to mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.
Updated at 2:42 pm.