Trump: US states must let religious services resume
May 23 2020 03:34 AM
US President Donald Trump
Donald Trump

DPA/Reuters/Washington

US President Donald Trump demanded yesterday that states allow religious services to take place again this weekend, ending shutdowns that were part of efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
Trump made the proclamation, which he phrased in the form of a verbal order, from the White House briefing room.
His exact authority to dictate to states was unclear, but his words will carry political weight and pressure state officials.
“Today I am identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said, meaning they can be open during the pandemic.
He said the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) would be issuing guidance “at my direction”.
However, a CDC update issued later yesterday only offered “non-binding public health guidance” that reiterated standard health and safety practices.
The president’s comments come amid reports that public health officials were hesitant to release sweeping recommendations on reopening houses of worship.
Church closures have stoked parts of Trump’s conservative base.
There is a partisan divide on lockdown orders, and, while the majority of the country remains concerned about the virus, Republicans are somewhat less wary and more likely to want faster reopenings.
“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open, right now,” Trump said, adding that “the people are demanding” to be able to attend services at churches, synagogues and mosques.
Trump said he will “override” any governor who does not allow in-person worship.
However, it is unclear if he has any authority to do so.
Kayleigh McEnany, the White House spokesperson, would not clarify what law the president can invoke to override local public health orders.
Normally, the judiciary would weigh in on decisions by governors deemed to be in violation of state or federal constitutions.
The US Justice Department has backed churches that are suing states regarding the closures, arguing that houses of worship should be considered essential businesses.
The US Constitution protects full freedom of religion and the church closures have proven to be a thorny issue.
Conservative groups have been calling for more lax rules on churches, despite some outbreaks traced back to places of worship.
Meanwhile, some pastors have defied public health orders and conducted in-person gatherings.
Republican-controlled states are pushing for quicker economic reopenings, while some Democrat-controlled areas are taking a more cautious approach.
In California, the nation’s most populous state, more than 3,000 individual churches are expected to reopen later this month, regardless of public health orders, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee newspaper.
Churches and other religious services are grouped with movie theatres and hair salons in California’s reopening plan.
Some states, however, have already moved to allow some religious services to resume.
According to Pew research, about one-third of US people attend religious services once a week, a number that has been in steady decline in recent years.
The percentage of people who say they seldom or never attend prayers is the rise.



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