President Donald Trump announced Friday that his administration is issuing guidance deeming places of worship “essential” during the coronavirus pandemic.
He called on governors to reopen religious institutions for services or risk being override.
Trump threatened to “override” governors if their states did not follow the new federal recommendations, but it was unclear what authority the President was referring to. The recommendations are voluntary.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left out churches and houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump said during his announcement at the White House.
Trump said he was calling upon governors to “allow churches and places of worship to open right now.”
“If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call,” Trump added.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” he continued.
Later in the briefing, White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany underscored that reopening was at the discretion of governors and religious leaders.
“I think each one of the leaders in the faith community should be in touch with their local health department so they can communicate to their congregants. Certainly, people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them,” Birx said.
“Maybe they can’t go this week if there’s high numbers of Covid cases. Maybe they wait another week. But there is a way to social distance … in places of worship.”
McEnany, asked about Birx’s response, said the decision to reopen based on the new federal guidance is “up to the governors.”
McEnany would not explain what authority Trump would use to “override” governors’ decisions to keep places of worship closed.
The new guidance released by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Friday recommends religious institutions provide soap and hand sanitizer, encourage the use of cloth masks and clean their facilities daily if they want to open while coronavirus is still spreading.
These institutions should also promote social distancing and consider limiting the sharing of objects such as books and hymnals, the CDC said.
The guidelines also offer leeway to organizations to make their own decisions about what they should do to limit the spread of the virus, and the guidelines are described by the CDC as “general considerations,” “suggestions” and “non-binding public health guidance for consideration only.”