WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Friday said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a press conference Friday. 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.
Even before President Donald Trump said Friday that he considered religious institutions “essential” and vowed that guidance would be coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Christian leaders in several states made plans to welcome back congregants on the week of Pentecost, May 31 including here in Tampa Bay.
The president suggested on Thursday that friction over the issue was more common in states run by Democrats because “churches are not being treated with respect” by many their governors.
One of those Democrats, California Gov. Gavin Newsom, was warned this week by Trump’s Justice Department that the state’s phased-in plan to restart economic activity puts an “unfair burden” on worship by not permitting churches to open earlier in the process. More than 1,200 California pastors are planning to restart worship on May 31 despite Newsom’s stay-at-home orders, which he has said would likely allow for religious gatherings within weeks.
Pastors in other states, however, have already begun outlining plans to welcome back worshippers in person before the month’s end. Florida’s Rodney Howard-Browne – arrested in March for holding a large in-person service at his church, charges that were later dropped – is preparing to reopen with an outdoor service on Pentecost. Catholic and Lutheran churches in Minnesota have notified that state’s Democratic governor that they plan to resume Mass this week in advance of the holiday, in defiance of his order.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House had refused to release them until Thursday when Trump abruptly changed course.
“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 got to get our churches open.”
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