President Trump on Friday said he would move to define houses of worship as essential services to be opened during the coronavirus pandemic.
“I am identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said at a press briefing. “I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now… If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”
Trump continued, “Ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure that their congregations are safe as they gather and pray….They love their congregations. They love their people. They don’t want anything bad to happen to them or to anybody else.”
Trump lacks the authority to override state decisions regarding closures of businesses and institutions since the Constitution delegates police powers to the states. Trump has clashed with governors in the past over the authority to reopen businesses, and received pushback from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers when he argued that he had absolute authority over the status of business closures.
At the Friday briefing, Trump said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be “issuing guidance for communities of faith” to reopen religious facilities. In many jurisdictions, certain restrictions on communal worship have already been lifted. New York revised its lockdown policy on Thursday to permit religious services of 10 people or fewer and drive-in services with larger congregations.
The Justice Department has weighed in on cases involving the closure of churches during the pandemic. Judges in Oregon and Kansas have also nixed some of those states’ restrictions on worship, provided that religious institutions adhere to social distancing requirements and other measures to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.