President Donald Trump on Friday demanded that US state governors allow places of worship to reopen immediately, as the country moves gradually towards a lifting of COVID-19 lockdown measures.
“Today I am identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump told a news conference at the White House.
“The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend,” he said.
“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
Establishing what constitutes essential services has been a prerogative of state and local officials, rather than the federal government, and many have restricted houses of worship from holding group services to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
In some areas, churches have opened under strict social distancing rules, while in others, pastors and priests have held services outdoors, with worshippers staying in their cars.
But Trump said houses of worship should be allowed to open just like other places that were designated essential services — including drug stores, restaurants, supermarkets, hospitals and health clinics, as well as stores that sell alcohol.
“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,” Trump said.
There has been debate in some states over allowing facilities providing abortion services, like those operated by Planned Parenthood, to stay open during the COVID-19 shutdown.