President Donald Trump has ordered state governors to open places of worship this weekend, calling them “essential.”
During a press conference, Trump told reporters that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had developed and issued new guidelines on reopening places of worship. He declared that houses of worship would be considered “essential” and needed to be immediately opened.
“Today, I’m identifying houses of worships – churches, synagogues, and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” he said.
“Some governors have deemed the liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worships. It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Trump took aim directly at state governors, ordering them to reopen places of worship by the weekend. He threatened to “override” any governors who refused to reopen houses of worship.
“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there’s any question, they’re going to have call me but there’re not going to be successful in that call,” he said. “The governors need to do the right 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.”
Currently, the CDC website does not list the updated guidelines on houses of worship; it lists the interim guidance that was published in March.
Trump previously instructed the CDC to issue guidelines on reopening houses of worship on Thursday, and the release was reportedly delayed over disagreements on the recommended measures. The Washington Post reported that White House officials wanted the guidelines to be less restrictive.
“The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure that their congregations are safe as they gather and pray. I know them well. They love their congregations. They love their people. They don’t want anything bad to happen to them or to anybody else,” Trump said during the press conference.
Restrictions on places of worship has been a controversial topic. During the pandemic, Arkansas officials have encouraged alternative means of worship, including parking lot services or having streams of sermons.
One of the more notable instances of COVID-19 transmission in a place of worship setting occurred in Arkansas at a Greers Ferry church. The CDC released a study earlier this week on an Arkansas church in which two individuals spread COVID-19 to at least 35 individuals in early March. While the study did not identify the church or county in which the outbreak occurred, the details of the outbreak match those of those reported at the Greers Ferry First Assembly of God in Cleburne County.
On May 4, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced a set of guidelines for churches to begin reopening. Under the guidelines, houses of worship have multiple restrictions including having signs advising no entry if individuals have had recent fever, symptoms or contact with COVID-19 positives; maintaining six-foot physical distances; and wearing face coverings inside by anyone over the age of 10 years old.
In addition, worship leaders addressing congregations and singers will be allowed to remove masks while speaking or performing, but 12-foot physical distances are required at these times.