US President Donald Trump has deemed churches and other houses of worship essential and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend, even as some parts of the nation remain under coronavirus lockdown.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Mr Trump told a press conference at the White House, where he didn’t take questions.
He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them.
The 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 Mr Trump changed course on Thursday.
“I said ‘you better put it out’. And they’re doing it,” Mr Trump said on Thursday at a Ford Motor 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.”
Mr Trump on Friday (local time) 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.
Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany subsequently faced questions from reporters about what the President’s authority was to force state officials to do so.
Places of worship are ESSENTIAL.
This President stands with Americans of ALL faiths!
— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) May 22, 2020
“It is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines,” said Ms McEnany.