2020-05-22 20:22:13 UTC
Washington (CNN) President Donald Trump announced Friday that his
administration is issuing guidance deeming places of worship "essential" during
the coronavirus pandemic, calling on governors to reopen religious institutions
Trump threatened to "override" governors if their states did not follow the new
federal recommendations, but it was unclear what authority the President was
referring to. The recommendations are voluntary.
"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but
have left our churches and houses of worship. It's not right. So I'm correcting
this injustice and calling houses of worship essential," Trump said during his
announcement at the White House.
The President said that at his direction, the US Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention will provide the guidance.
Trump said he was calling upon governors to "allow churches and places of
worship to open right now."
"If there's any question, they're going to have to call me, but they're not
going to be successful in that call," Trump added.
"The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important
essential places of faith to open right now, this weekend. If they don't do it,
I will override the governors," he continued.
Later in the briefing, White House Coronavirus Task Force Coordinator Dr.
Deborah Birx and White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, underscored that
reopening was at the discretion of governors and religious leaders.
"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.
Certainly people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I
know those houses of worship want to protect them," Birx said. "Maybe they can't
go this week if there's high numbers of Covid cases. Maybe they wait another
week. But there is a way to social distance ... in places of worship."
McEnany, asked about Birx's response, said the decision to reopen based on the
new federal guidance is "up to the governors."
McEnany would not explain what authority Trump would use to "override"
governors' decisions to keep places of worship closed.
A senior administration official told CNN that the guidance had been initially
delayed because some officials believed the proposals were too detailed and
would be impossible for churches and others to achieve. There was also talk of
putting out no guidance at all on religious services, but Trump had
conversations with CDC officials and urged them to issue something.
The White House coronavirus task force finalized the guidance during a meeting
on Thursday, the source said.
The President referred to the conversations with CDC officials on Thursday,
telling participants and the press at a listening session with African
Americans, "I said, 'You better put it out.' "
"I spoke to CDC today about churches. We've got to get our churches open. We've
got to get our country open," he said.
As Trump has pressured localities and states to reopen amid the coronavirus
pandemic, he's put particular weight on the reopening of places of worship.
He said in April that it would be "beautiful" for churches to be open and
"packed" on Easter Sunday. He later said the date was aspirational.
Ahead of Easter Sunday, he advised faith leaders to wait for the country to "get
healed" from the coronavirus pandemic before holding services in person.
But more recently, the President has lamented that digital religious services
aren't the same as in-person ones.
"People want to be in their churches. It's wonderful to sit home and watch
something on a laptop, but it can never be the same as being in a church and
being with your friends. And they want to have it open, and I think that's going
to be happening... very shortly," Trump said during Thursday's listening
Large gatherings, like those in houses of worship, have been linked to clusters
of coronavirus. This month, two churches in northern California linked the
spread of coronavirus among church members and clergy to Mother's Day services.
A Texas church recently canceled its masses after one of its priests died and
five others subsequently tested positive for the coronavirus.