President Trump announced Friday that all houses of worship would be considered “essential services” and urged governors to “do the right thing” and reopen them immediately — adding that he would “override” them if they didn’t.
“Today, I am identifying houses of worship, as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump declared in a sudden White House briefing.
“At my direction, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for communities of faith,” he said.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics [are] essential, but have left out synagogues and other houses of worship, it’s not right. So I am correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential. I call upon governors to allow synagogues and places of worship to open right now,” the president said, adding that he’d overrule governors who don’t comply.
“If there is any question, they will have to call me, but they are not going to be successful in that call,”’ he asserted.
“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 do not do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less,” Trump concluded before leaving the briefing room without taking questions.
Dr. Deborah Birx of the Coronavirus Task Force said moments later that while the president wants houses of worship opened this weekend, some may want to wait to protect their congregations.
“Certainly, people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them, so really ensuring that maybe they can’t go this week if there’s a high number of COVID cases, maybe they wait another week,” Birx said, adding that faith leaders should contact their local health departments.
“I really firmly believe a knowledgeable community can really make judgments for themselves. I think 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 congregants.”
Asked repeatedly what authority the president would use to “override” governors, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany called the question “hypothetical.”
“You are assuming governors are going to keep synagogues and mosques shut down. That is a hypothetical question,” she said, adding that she believed that “faith communities [would] reopen.”
McEnany declined to respond when pressed further about the commander in chief’s authority to issue such an order.
She also pointed to CDC guidelines on reopening houses of worship.
“There is detailed guidance about the way you can clean your facilities and promote social distancing so this is something we should all look at and be thankful we are encouraging faith communities to reopen and do so in a safe way, McEnany said.
It remained unclear how many governors would comply, and how many houses of worship would reopen despite Trump’s and their governor’s direction.