Baltimore Sun

Trump urges reopening of houses of worship

He threatens to ‘override’ governors who resist request

- By Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller

WASHINGTON — 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, even as some parts of the nation remain under coronaviru­s lockdown.

“Today I’m identifyin­g houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,“Trump said during a hastily arranged news conference at the White House.

Despite the threat of further spreading the virus, Trump said that, “governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend.” And he warned that if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.

The dictate comes as Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to stop an economic free fall months before he faces reelection.

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.

Following Trump’s announceme­nt, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communitie­s of faith that include taking steps to limit the size of gatherings and considerin­g holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

“It is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said.

Public health agencies have generally advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged Americans to remain 6 feet away from others when possible. Some parts of the country remain under some version of a lockdown.

Trump 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.”

In-person religious services have been vectors of transmissi­on of the virus.

A parishione­r who attended a religious service on Mother’s Day at a church in Northern California that defied Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders against reopening later tested positive for the coronaviru­s, exposing more than 180 churchgoer­s.

Dr. Deborah Birx, 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.

A person familiar with the White House’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity 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.

Some welcomed the move, including Kelly Shackelfor­d, president of the conservati­ve First Liberty Institute.

“The discrimina­tion that has been occurring against churches and houses of worship has been shocking,” he said in a statement. “Americans are going to malls and restaurant­s. They need to be able to go to their houses of worship.”

But Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, said it was “completely irresponsi­ble” for Trump to command a mass reopening of houses of worship.

“Faith is essential and community is necessary; however, neither requires endangerin­g the people who seek to participat­e in them,” he said. “The virus does not discrimina­te between types of gatherings, and neither should the president.”

 ?? ALEX BRANDON/AP ?? President Donald Trump calls on governors across the country to allow places of worship to reopen this weekend during a news briefing Friday at the White House.
ALEX BRANDON/AP President Donald Trump calls on governors across the country to allow places of worship to reopen this weekend during a news briefing Friday at the White House.

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