Trump demands governors immediately open churches and threatens to 'override' holdouts

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President Trump vowed to override the authority of governors if they don’t reopen churches this weekend.

During a White House press conference on Friday, Trump said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the White House will update their policies to deem houses of worship as essential businesses.

“Today, I am identifying houses of worship, churches, synagogues, and mosques, as essential places that provide essential services. Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential but have left out churches and other houses of worship. It’s not right. So, I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship ‘essential,'” Trump said during his brief appearance at the news conference.

Trump said that governors would need to update their social distancing protocols to include the opening of churches by this weekend, adding that if states don’t do so, he’d override their authority through executive action to allow the public to attend worship services.

“The governors need to do the right thing 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,” Trump said.

Trump’s new guidelines would not be binding on governors, as no other federal guidelines have been. Legal disputes between state governments and religious entities must be solved through litigation.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany appeared to walk back Trump’s threaten to challenge governors who don’t comply, saying that the president just “wants to see churches reopen in accordance with his guidelines.”

“The president will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen,” she said, speaking after Trump at the briefing.

In California and Illinois, where Gov. Gavin Newsom and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have been particularly strict in their regulations on churches, their orders have provoked widespread outcry and several lawsuits from religious leaders.

In California, a coalition of more than 3,000 churches plans to break Newsom’s order on May 31. Newsom, while assuring churches of his trust in their abilities to social distance, has not yet announced a clear timeline of when they will be able to reopen.

The Justice Department on Monday sent Newsom a letter demanding he allow churches to reopen in the state. The department has weighed in on religious liberty questions during the pandemic twice before.

Danny Carroll, one of the pastors leading the coalition, told the Washington Examiner that both he, and many other religious leaders, feel that throughout the pandemic, Newsom “hasn’t been responsive to our needs at all.”

“There’s a lot of us saying, ‘Okay, we just need to move ahead,’” he said. “I don’t think any of us are rebels or activists. We’re just pastors trying to get our churches to go to work. We love our people.”

Trump said during an event on Thursday that the CDC plans to put out new church opening guidelines “very soon.”

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