WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Friday that places of worship are “essential” and should open this weekend, threatening to override governors who don’t allow churches, synagogues and mosques to reopen in the coming days.
“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 during impromptu remarks to reporters. “So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now.”
“…The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend,” he said. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
Trump did not say what legal authority he might seek to use to force governors, who maintain the power to order establishments to remain closed during public health emergencies in their own states, to make such a move if they disagreed.
Press secretary Kayleigh McEnany declined to say how Trump could force governors to take such action when pressed repeatedly by reporters shortly after the president spoke.
“The president would like churches to reopen and do it in accordance with the guidelines,” McEnany said, adding that Trump “will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention planned to release guidelines Friday for reopening places of worship amid the coronavirus crisis that were to include recommendations for face coverings, basic hygiene and avoiding shared materials like hymnals, said a White House official.
As of Friday afternoon, the guidelines had yet to be released, giving churches and houses of worship little time to implement them should they open this coming weekend.
The White House had delayed the guidelines over a disagreement with the CDC over what the recommendations should entail.
Those guidelines have been revised by White House officials in recent days to make them less stringent than the ones the agency initially recommended. Trump said it was “essential” that churches up, like other essential businesses that have opened in recent days.
“Our big push has been, don’t be overly prescriptive,” the official said. “And keep in mind, these are recommendations.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force, said faith leaders should coordinate with local health officials on plans for reopening, particularly in places that still have a persistent number of cases.
“I think that each one of the leaders in the faith community should be in touch with their local health departments so that they can communicate to their congregates,” Birx said. “Certainly, people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them. Ensuring that maybe they can’t go this week if there’s a high number of COVID cases, maybe they wait another week.”