On Friday, President Donald Trump labeled churches and other houses of worship as "essential" during the coronavirus pandemic, calling on governors to reopen religious institutions for services this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.
Trump threatened to "override" state leaders' restrictions if they do not do so by the weekend.
NEW: President Trump declares his view that houses of worship should now be “essential,” and calls on governors to open them “right now.” pic.twitter.com/2nnyu5KcNF
— MSNBC (@MSNBC) May 22, 2020
Trump said it was an "injustice" that some state leaders have allowed "liquor stores and abortion clinics" to stay open amid the Covid-19 pandemic while closing houses of worship.
"Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left out 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.
Trump emphasized that he is 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.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany also announced that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would be releasing detailed safety recommendations for reopening houses of worship.
The CDC guidelines include identifying space to be used to separate sick people if needed, developing an emergency communication plan to quickly distribute information to congregants, updating emergency plans with the help of local health departments, identifying actions needed if canceling events and services is necessary and promoting the practice of everyday preventative actions, such as washing hands and cleaning frequently touched objects and services.
McEnany did not specify the exact legal power that Trump would have to override governors' orders to keep houses of worship closed, just saying Trump would "strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen."
Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, stressed the importance of practicing mitigation measures as places of worship reopen, and said community faith leaders should be in touch with their local health departments.
"I think what we are trying to say with the CDC guidance is there is a way for us to work together to have social distancing and safety for people, so that we decrease the amount of exposure that anyone would have to asymptomatic [people]," she said. "And I see it that way because I know all of you and all of Americans, if they didn't feel well, they wouldn't go to church that day."
Meanwhile, evangelical pastors responded to Trump's call for churches to reopen.
Jenetezen Franklin, Jentezen Franklin, author and the senior pastor of Free Chapel, a multi-site church based in Gainesville, Georgia, wrote on Twitter, "Thank you Mr President! @realDonaldTrump you always have the back of people of Faith!!!"
"We appreciate this very much. We will use wisdom about reopening but it's our call, not the governments!!!!" Franklin added.
Rev. Samuel Rodriguez of New Season Church in Sacramento, California, agree with trump and wrote, "The spiritual health of our nation is essential. Churches can reopen safely with all CDC recommendations in place. Thank you POTUS for federally recognizing this truth."