United States President Donald Trump on Friday declared churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of spreading the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged news conference at the White House, where he did not take questions. He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it is unclear what authority he has to do so.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared a draft of reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago that included measures like maintaining distance between parishioners and limiting the size of gatherings.
But that guidance had been delayed for more than a month by the administration until Trump abruptly changed course on Thursday.
“I said, ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said during a tour of a Ford Motor Co plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan. “And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We’ve got to get our churches open.”
Trump on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with some of the businesses that had been allowed to reopen.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque,” he said.
Pundits were quick to blast Trump’s announcement.
“State governors don’t work for Trump and he can’t ‘override’ them via presidential decree,” Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, said in a tweet.
State governors don’t work for Trump and he can’t “override” them via presidential decree.
Trump should read the Constitution or speak to someone who has before proclaiming that he has the power to do something. https://t.co/0n8PJrX3HY
— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) May 22, 2020
A survey conducted by the Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 67 percent of respondents attended religious services at least once a month prior to lockdowns. But only 38 percent said they would attend services if they are allowed in the next few weeks, according to the poll.
Trump previously said he wanted churches to be reopened by Easter Sunday, on April 12, but that was dismissed by his own health experts, who said it was too risky. In recent weeks churches in some states have started to reopen as restrictions have loosened.