President Trump deems churches 'essential,' calls for them to reopen

President Donald Trump listens during a demonstration of ways NASA is helping to combat the coronavirus, in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Friday, April 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” Trump says. “In America, we need more prayer not less.”

Posted: May 22, 2020 1:27 PM
Updated: May 22, 2020 2:10 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Friday that he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential" and called on governors across the country to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of spreading the coronavirus.

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services," Trump said during a hastily arranged 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, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.

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 Trump abruptly reversed course Thursday.

“I said, ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said Thursday at a Ford Motor Co. 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.”

It is unclear what the final guidelines will say, but public health agencies have generally advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged Americans to remain 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others when possible.

Trump, who has been pushing for the economy to reopen even as the virus continues to spread, on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with other businesses and services that have been allowed to continue to operate.

“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,” he said.

Churches have the potential to infect large groups of people if precautions aren't taken. A church in Northern California that defied the governor’s orders and held a service on Mother’s Day was attended by a person who later tested positive for the coronavirus, exposing more than 180 churchgoers.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator for the White House's coronavirus task force, said that faith community leaders should be in touch with their local health departments and can take steps to mitigate risks, including making sure those who are at high risk of severe complications remain protected.

“There’s a way for us to work together to have social distancing and safety for people so we decrease the amount of exposure that anyone would have to an asymptomatic," she said.

White evangelical Christians have been among the most loyal members of the president's base, and the White House has been careful to attend to religious communities' concerns over the course of the crisis, including holding numerous conference calls with them.

A person familiar with the White House’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said Trump had called the news conference, which had not been on his public schedule, because he wanted to be the face of church reopenings, knowing how well it would play with his base.

Churches around the country have filed legal challenges to the virus closures. In Minnesota, after Democratic Gov. Tim Walz this week declined to lift restrictions on churches, Roman Catholic and some Lutheran leaders said they would defy his ban and resume worship services. They called the restrictions unconstitutional and unfair since restaurants, malls and bars were allowed limited reopening.

The CDC more than a month ago sent the Trump administration documents the agency had drafted outlining specific steps various kinds of organizations could follow as they work to reopen safely.

The administration first shelved the documents but eventually released guidance for six other types of organizations, but not houses of worship. A Trump administration official had said there had been concerns about the propriety of the government interfering with the operation of places of worship.

Roger Severino, director of the Office for Civil Rights at the Department of Health and Human Services, argued that “protections against religious discrimination aren’t suspended during an emergency.”

Two senior administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations, concerns about religious freedom had since been resolved.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 20573

Reported Deaths: 878
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin6918534
Ramsey231697
Stearns192312
Nobles14572
Anoka116455
Dakota105935
Olmsted55110
Washington50626
Kandiyohi4541
Clay36623
Rice3652
Scott3462
Wright2401
Sherburne2081
Todd1970
Benton1662
Carver1612
Mower1501
Steele1400
Martin1245
Blue Earth1121
St. Louis11113
Pine850
Freeborn840
Winona7715
Carlton730
Nicollet683
Cottonwood620
Polk582
Otter Tail550
Itasca527
Goodhue522
Watonwan500
Chisago481
Dodge430
Meeker420
Crow Wing421
Le Sueur411
Chippewa400
Jackson390
Morrison380
Murray350
Becker320
Lyon310
Douglas290
McLeod260
Isanti250
Waseca240
Rock210
Unassigned199
Fillmore171
Mille Lacs161
Wabasha160
Swift150
Sibley120
Beltrami120
Wilkin113
Norman110
Kanabec111
Cass113
Faribault110
Brown112
Pipestone100
Marshall80
Pennington70
Pope70
Aitkin60
Wadena60
Yellow Medicine50
Koochiching50
Lincoln50
Mahnomen51
Renville50
Lac qui Parle30
Red Lake30
Big Stone30
Redwood30
Traverse30
Grant20
Houston20
Clearwater20
Hubbard10
Kittson10
Lake10
Roseau10

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 17227

Reported Deaths: 456
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk3714108
Woodbury255524
Black Hawk167639
Linn92775
Marshall86611
Dallas84914
Johnson5987
Muscatine54339
Wapello5004
Crawford4772
Tama39023
Louisa3347
Scott3319
Dubuque31916
Jasper25616
Buena Vista2310
Pottawattamie2106
Sioux1990
Washington1798
Allamakee1184
Wright1170
Plymouth1080
Warren1060
Story941
Poweshiek888
Bremer676
Henry611
Clinton601
Boone540
Des Moines531
Mahaska526
Cedar451
Guthrie433
Taylor370
Benton371
Jones360
Monroe334
Iowa320
Clarke320
Osceola320
Shelby310
Buchanan310
Clayton303
Marion290
Webster271
Fayette260
Hamilton260
Madison241
Monona230
Cerro Gordo221
Lee220
Winneshiek210
Davis200
Lyon190
Grundy190
Harrison190
Floyd181
Jefferson150
Cherokee150
Butler150
Mills140
Delaware140
Humboldt130
Sac130
Greene130
Keokuk130
Hardin130
Howard120
Hancock120
Appanoose123
Audubon111
Jackson110
Cass110
Ida100
Page100
Clay100
Winnebago100
Carroll90
Van Buren80
Franklin80
Dickinson80
Adair80
Chickasaw80
Kossuth70
Emmet70
Lucas60
Montgomery60
Union60
Adams50
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Fremont40
Pocahontas40
Mitchell40
Palo Alto30
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