President Donald Trump has declared places of worship, such as churches, synagogues and mosques, as essential services and has called on governors to allow these religious institutions to reopen. The president has also said he will “override” the decisions of any state leaders who don’t agree to reopen churches.
“The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams and other faith leaders will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather and pray,” said Trump at a hastily scheduled appearance Friday in the briefing room of the White House.
The president’s order comes as he criticizes the “hypocrisy” of some governors who have allowed liquor stores and abortion clinics to remain open while keeping houses of worship under lockdown.
“It’s not right, so I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump told reporters.
In response to the Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, most houses of worship in the U.S. have closed their doors for the time being, with some providing virtual services. However, others have tried to continue with normal services and bringing their congregations together, which has prompted some pushback from local authorities. (Related: Churchgoers vow they would rather DIE than skip services during coronavirus lockdown.)
State and local officials critical of order
Trump made no mention of how exactly he would compel governors and state authorities to reopen religious institutions. Currently, legal experts are saying that the president has no power to compel state governments, especially if the order to shut down places of worship was done lawfully.
State and local politicians have similarly expressed resistance to this order.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said she will not alter her state’s lockdown protocols to reopen churches. Similarly, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced that her city will be ignoring Trump’s demand.
“By no means can the president order any locality, any state to do something that he doesn’t have the power to do,” said Lightfoot. “And he can’t do that here.”
Public health experts have raised concerns about the risks entailed with reopening religious institutions, especially when there have already been several cases of outbreaks spreading from church congregations. A small outbreak of COVID-19 broke out in rural Arkansas which spread from a pastor and his wife to around three dozen of their parishioners. At least two churches in Texas and Georgia have already shut down after reopening when several of their members tested positive for the coronavirus.
Listen to the Health Ranger Report with Mike Adams, the Health Ranger, as he talks about how the lockdowns have been weaponized to the detriment of humanity.
CDC issues guidelines for reopening of places of worship
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines Friday afternoon about what communities of faith should follow if they want to maintain good health when they reopen.
Religious institutions should, above all, establish and maintain lines of communication with local and state authorities, provide proper protective equipment for staff and congregants and abide by local, state and federal laws and regulations put in place to protect everyone.
Once churches reopen, the CDC laid out seven key guidelines they need to follow:
- Follow social distancing regulations — Limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services in large or outdoor areas.
- Encourage the use of face masks — Both staff and congregants should wear face coverings, especially when social distancing is difficult to follow.
- Intensify cleaning, disinfection and ventilation efforts — Develop a proper schedule when employees will clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces in the building. Increase ventilation in the building and ensure that the church’s current ventilation systems are working properly.
- Promote healthy hygiene practices — Encourage both staff and attendees to practice proper hygiene, such as the washing of hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Provide childcare services for congregants — Consider opening proper childcare services, or partnering with nurseries in the area.
- Minimize the sharing of worship materials and other items — Consider temporarily limiting the sharing of materials, such as worship aids, prayer books and other items.
- Train staff — Train both clergy and staff in the above-mentioned guidelines.
The CDC further stated that, during these troubling times, faith leaders should continue providing congregants with spiritual and emotional care and counseling services.
Despite these guidelines, it remains unclear if Trump can force state and local authorities to reopen houses of worship. The U.S. Constitution reserves considerable powers to states and several courts have already set restrictions on in-person worship services during the pandemic for the promotion of public health.