(The Center Square) – President Donald Trump on Friday said he was calling on the nation’s governors to end restrictions that have closed churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship, deeming them essential.
“Today, I am identifying houses of worship – churches and synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said at a White House press briefing. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and houses of worship. It is not right.”
Stay-at-home orders meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 have closed businesses and other places deemed nonessential, including churches in many states. Many churches have been holding virtual services since the restrictions began. Others have been cited by state and local authorities for violating the government-mandated restrictions.
Governors in California, Illinois, Texas and elsewhere have been sued by faith leaders who argue the spiritual services they provide are essential.
“I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump said.
Faith leaders will need to make sure their churches remain safe when they welcome congregants, the president said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for houses of worship to follow so they can reopen safely.
“They love their congregations. They love their people. They don’t want anything bad to happen to them or to anybody else,” Trump said. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
It’s unclear what authority Trump has to overrule governors’ emergency orders.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator, said houses of worship in places with recent outbreaks of the coronavirus might need to wait a week or two.
“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,” Birx said. “Certainly people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them. Maybe they can’t go this week if there’s high numbers of Covid cases. Maybe they wait another week.”
But, she added, services can be held safely.
“There is a way to social distance … in places of worship,” Birx said.