President Donald Trump Declares Houses of Worship Essential

Images of NY places of worship. Via Nagle in the NY Times.

 

Trump’s Declaration on Houses of Worship: What Does this Mean for America?

In a statement last week, President Donald Trump declared houses of worship as essential businesses. President Trump argued that it was an injustice that governors deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential while churches and other Houses of Worship were “left out” (“President Trump delivers”, 2020). He stated that if the governors do not “do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now . . . he will override the governors” (“President Trump delivers”, 2020). 

On the same day, last Friday, the CDC issued guidelines for communities of faith, which included limiting exposure risk for congregants that are at a higher risk, wearing face masks, encouraging hand hygiene, promoting social distancing, providing a sturdy enough supply of soap, hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch trash cans, and more (“Interim guidance”, 2020).

 

Trump Making his statement last Friday. Image via Associated Press

 

What Do Opposing Sides Think?

News outlets disagree as to whether houses of worship are safe enough to open right now, but they largely agree that the president does not have the authority to override governors. CNN’s Chris Cuomo says, “Look, the law is clear. Trump has zero power to override governors on reopening Houses of Worship” (Cuomo, 2020), and John Roberts, Chief White House Correspondent, shares a similar view, saying, “It’s unclear what constitutional authority the president would have to override a governor” (Baier, 2020).

Many are weary of houses of worship reopening. Roberts says he is “Also uncertain whether places of worship in areas that are still coronavirus hot spots could reopen right now” (Baier, 2020). Some Republican governors even advised strongly against filling Places of Prayer, and Chris Cuomo argues that the nation needs to find the safest way to worship (Cuomo, 2020). However, Fox News’s Bret Baier says, “If you are going to open other things in the state, of course, churches should be among them” (Baier, 2020). Whether this means now is the right time to reopen Houses of Worship is unclear, yet Baier’s statement does indicate that they should be opened sooner rather than later.

 

Whose Authority is it?

Whose authority it is to reopen the states still remains unclear, as President Trump waivers back and forth on this issue. President Trump originally declared that it was his authority, and not the governors’, to re-open states (“Some in the”, 2020); however, he later backed off of that stance and then encouraged governors to reopen their states. Now, the president claims again that he has the authority to override governors and reopen Houses of Worships within states. This brings us back to the ongoing federalism debate in the current crisis. (Read more about the failure of federalism during the Coronavirus here.) This debate seems to remain largely unresolved, especially if officials do not attempt to address this issue for crises going forward.

 

How Are Religious Leaders Responding?

Religious leaders are taking different approaches to the order. Some are reopening immediately, while others are waiting for input from public health officials. In an NPR interview, Imam Rizwan Ali from the Islamic Center of Naperville in Naperville, Illinois says that she is still encouraging prayer at home during this time, providing virtual sermons and drive-through celebrations with toys and sweets for children to mark the end of Ramadan (“Religious leaders”, 2020). Imam Ali does not want to open up the congregation until he knows it’s safe for his congregants.

Also in the NPR interview, Reverend Thomas Mckenzie of the Church of the Redeemer, an Anglican Church in Nashville, Tennessee, explains that he has more people joining in the virtual sermons than normal, including people that are sick, traveling or that have moved. Regardless of the national declaration, however, Revered Mckenzie intends to follow local responses, mainly the Mayor’s guidelines, to the virus instead of the national declaration (“Religious leaders”, 2020).

In West Michigan, however, some churches have hastily begun in-person services (Grippo, 2020). One church in particular, 12th Street Baptist, even declared that they had planned to reopen before the president’s announcement. In the state itself, Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, a possible candidate for vice president, had announced that groups of only 10 or less were allowed to gather; yet she also stated that places of worship would not be penalized for violating the rule (Grippo, 2020). In order to keep its congregants safe, 12th Street Baptist is requiring its congregants to wear face masks and to abide by the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.

 

What Are Other Nations Doing?

Church in Paris. Credit to Thomas Coex via Getty Images.

In Europe, Germany has been at the forefront of the first nations to reopen (Schuetze, Méheut, & Rasgon, 2020). Chancellor Angela Merkel has largely reopened shops and businesses and has approved the restart of the Bundesliga soccer season. Houses of Worship have also opened, which has led to 40 new COVID-19 cases occurring at a Baptist church in Frankfurt on May 10th.

France, being one of the last to reopen its doors in Europe, began its prayer rituals again in Houses of Worship this past weekend with masks and social distancing still in place. This happened as a result of a decision made by France’s administrative court, which struck down the French government’s ban on public worship. The effect of this reopening on the current crisis still remains to be seen.

Spain has opened churches at reduced capacity, following social distancing guidelines and safety measures, but Britain, on the other hand, has not yet allowed Houses of Worship to reopen at all (Schuetze et al., 2020).

Though rises in the number of cases have occurred in Germany as a result of Houses of Worship reopening, we still do not know how the United States will be affected by this order. Some governors may follow these directives, while others may refuse to follow the President’s instructions, which may result in more cases in some places and fewer in others. If these Houses of Worship reopen and follow CDC guidelines, they may not see much of a resurgence of cases at all. Only time will tell how this message will affect the nation.

 

 

References

Baier, Brett. (2020 May 22). President Trump orders houses of worship opened. Fox News. https://www.foxnews.com/transcript/president-trump-orders-houses-of-worship-opened

Cuomo, Chris. (2020 May 22). Trump deems Houses of Worship “essential” despite having no power to reopen them; Large study finds Trump-touted drug linked to greater risk of death and heart arrhythmia in Covid-19 treatment; GBI; Wouldn’t have arrested Bryan if he was just “a witness”. Cuomo Prime Time. http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/2005/22/CPT.01.html

Grippo, G. (2020 May 24). Some West Michigan churches reopen in-person services, others wait for public health input. WWMT. https://wwmt.com/news/local/some-west-michigan-churches-reopen-in-person-services-others-wait-for-public-health-input

Nagle, M. (2015 Dec. 24). Where New Yorkers worship: Finding God in a city of bustle. [Image]. The NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/25/arts/where-new-yorkers-worship-finding-god-in-a-city-of-bustle.html

Schuetze, C. F., Méheut, C., & Rasgon, A. (2020 May 24). Push to reopen Houses of Worship in Europe and Mideast brings perils and tensions. The NY Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/world/europe/germany-france-church-mosque-coronavirus.html

Trump, J. [realDonaldTrump]. (2020 April 13). Some in the Fake News Media are saying that it is the Governors decision to open up the states, not that of the President of the United States & the Federal Government. Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect. [Tweet].

Trump, J. (2020 May 22). President Trump delivers statement on Houses of Worship. C-Span. https://www.c-span.org/video/?472429-1/president-trump-calls-reopening-houses-worship

(2020 May 22). Interim Guidance for Communities of Faith. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/php/faith-based.html

(2020 May 22). Watch: Trump says he considers Houses of Worship ‘essential’, calls on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend. [Image]. Associated Press. https://www.kaaltv.com/politics/trump-says-he-considers-houses-of-worship-essential-calls-on-governors-to-allow-them-to-reopen-this-weekend/5738205/

(2020 May 23). Religious leaders react to Trump’s call to reopen Houses of Worship. [Podcast episode]. In All Things Considered. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2020/05/23/861577374/religious-leaders-react-to-trump-s-call-to-reopen-houses-of-worship

 

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Naomi Matthusen is a junior at Queens University of Charlotte, majoring in Political Science and double minoring in French and Professional Writing & Rhetoric. She has conducted political and legal research on a variety of topics during her time as a student at Queens, and she has canvassed for several political campaigns, has worked for a law firm, and has been involved in politics at the state level.

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