WASHINGTON (AP/WSAV) — President Donald Trump on Friday said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the threat of the coronavirus.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference Friday. He said if governors don’t abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it’s unclear what authority he has to do so.
Although the governor has taken executive action to prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people unless there are six feet between each person, some churches have not followed that measure.
Restrictions on Georgia’s services — like limiting the size of gatherings — were lifted earlier this month when the governor’s stay-at-home order expired. When asked for comment on the president’s remarks, Kemp’s office stated: “Places of worship are open in Georgia. They were never closed.”
The governor has previously encouraged alternative services made available online or by calling in.
South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster said the president “is right” that “prayer and worship is healthy and constitutionally protected, pandemic or not.” The governor added that worship services were never restricted in his state.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House had refused to release them until Thursday when Trump abruptly changed course.
“I said ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Trump said Thursday at a Ford Motor Co. plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan. “And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We got to get our churches open.”