Trump ‘Orders’ U.S. States To Reopen Churches
By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) – Tensions were rising Saturday after U.S. President Donald Trump demanded that states allow churches and other houses of worship to reopen from stay-at-home restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. Saying America needed more prayer, Trump threatened to override governors’ orders though he faced constitutional limits to enforce these policies.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out churches and other houses of worship,” the president complained at the White House. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” he told reporters.
Trump added: “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now. For this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
His message was also aimed at a part of his political base amid social and political wrangling over the U.S. fundamental freedom of worship at a time of crisis. Trump won four in five Christian evangelical voters in the 2016 presidential election.
After his two-minute statement, the president left the briefing room podium without taking questions. But in reactions, at least some governors declined to accept the president’s demands.
GOVERNOR WARNS CHURCHES
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, warned that churches and other houses of worship would not resume in-person services in her state until at least next weekend.
She said she was skeptical Trump had the authority to impose such a requirement. “It’s reckless to force them to reopen this weekend. They’re not ready,” Raimondo added. “We’ve got a good plan. I’m going to stick with it.”
New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, pledged he would review the federal guidelines while cautioning that a decision rests with him.
Religious groups expressed mixed reactions to Trump’s order. Some praised the president’s 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 argued 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, claimed it was “completely irresponsible” for Trump to call for 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 added. “The virus does not discriminate between types of gatherings, and neither should the president.”
BOOST FOR CHURCHES
However, the president’s demands came as a morale boost for churches across the United States that have filed lawsuits opposing 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 say restrictions are unconstitutional and unfair as restaurants, malls, and bars have been allowed limited reopening.
Vice President Mike Pence, an evangelical Christian, has also expressed concerns about the ban on in-person church services. He said recently, these cancellations in the name of slowing the coronavirus outbreak have “been a burden” for congregants.
Pence himself, however, attended services of his Indiana church online from “right in the living room at the vice president’s (residence), where we have been attending for the last several weeks.”
Amid the uncertainty, the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) posted a delayed “non-binding public health guidance” for face communities on its website Friday that the agency added was “for consideration only.”
Religious groups should promote healthy hygiene, including handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes, and encourage the use of masks by staff and congregants, the CDC said in the guidance.
It also recommended stepping up cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and shared objects, and ensuring that facilities are well-ventilated. Additionally, the CDC said faith communities should practice social distancing and minimize the sharing of worship materials and other items.
The CDC earlier published whopping 60-page guidance for restaurants, schools, childcare programs, mass transport, and other businesses about reopening. But it omitted details about houses of worship and faith-based organizations that the president has now described as “essential services.”
At Friday’s press conference, the White House press secretary, Kayleigh McEnany, deflected questions about Trump’s threat to override governors who refuse to reopen churches. She also clashed with reporters. “Boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed,” she told them.
Jeff Mason of Reuters news agency disagreed. “Kayleigh, I object to that. I go to church. I’m dying to go back to church,” he countered. “The question that we’re asking you, and would like to have asked the president and Dr. Birx, is is it safe?”
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