On Friday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany announced that the Trump administration is recognizing places of worship as “essential services,” ending any debate about how they are to be treated moving forward.
“Places of worship are ESSENTIAL. President @realDonaldTrump reaffirmed his support for the First Amendment by announcing new @CDCgov guidance to allow churches, synagogues, mosques & other places of worship to re-open SAFELY. This President stands with Americans of ALL faiths!” McEnany tweeted on Friday.
Places of worship are ESSENTIAL.
This President stands with Americans of ALL faiths!
— Kayleigh McEnany (@PressSec) May 22, 2020
Places of worship were not considered essential services during the initial shutdowns, and they are generally still closed, even as restrictions on many types of businesses are being eased in most states.
Some churches have gotten creative with the restrictions by offering drive-up services, and a few continued to gather in defiance of stay-at-home orders. But most remain shuttered, leaving many people cut off from their faith communities.
It’s about time
While lockdown orders are mostly in the hands of the governors, Trump called on governors to lift the restrictions “right now” and even threatened to “override” them if necessary.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now–for this weekend,” the president said during a White House briefing on Friday. “If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer not less.”
“Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. But have left out churches and other houses of worship,” Trump stated. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
As always, Trump’s announcement has been met with both applause and criticism. Kelly Shackelford, president of the First Liberty Institute, stated, “The discrimination that has been occurring against churches and houses of worship has been shocking.”
“We applaud the President’s strong stance today demanding that these attacks must stop and that churches and houses of worship be freed to safely open. Americans are going to malls and restaurants. They need to be able to go to their houses of worship.”
On the flip side of that was Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, who stated, “The President is wrong, plain and simple. The virus does not discriminate between types of gatherings, and neither should the president … It is completely irresponsible for the president to command a mass reopening of houses of worship. The illness and death that afflicts religious communities who follow the president’s dictates will be his responsibility.”
With the Trump administration’s support, state and local governments can now move to allow churches to begin gathering again. Beyond that, religious organizations must decide for themselves when and how to reopen their doors.
At least one state has already moved to loosen restrictions on churches since Trump’s announcement. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said Saturday that places of worship may begin holding services, weddings, and funerals, limited at 25% capacity as soon as Wednesday. California’s Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said he will be releasing plans for reopening churches, synagogues, and mosques on Monday.