May 22, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump's holiday weekend pressure campaign

This image shows Trump and his press secretary before a White House briefing

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump wants to throw open the houses of worship "right now," claiming they are essential services.

What he's saying: “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," he said during a press conference on Friday.

Why it matters: Social distancing is hard at places of worship and there's an ongoing legal fight over how they should be treated in plans to lift coronavirus lockdowns.

  • Places of worship, including churches, mosques and synagogues, remain mostly closed due to large gathering restrictions across America.
  • Governors and local officials make these decisions, not Trump, but his pressure could push some of them to accelerate reopening timelines.
  • A CDC case study out this week said 35 of the 92 people who attended services at a rural Arkansas church in March tested positive for COVID-19, killing three.

The big picture: In California, a "group of federal attorneys wrote a letter to [Gov. Gavin] Newsom warning him that prolonged church closures likely violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment due to the fact that similar non-religious businesses are receiving the green light to reopen in Stage 2," per the San Francisco Chronicle.

  • A federal judge ruled in early May that churches can be held to the same standards as other places where people commune, such as restaurants, concerts, movies and sporting events, notes Axios' Marisa Fernandez.
  • Federal courts earlier ruled against temporary bans in Kentucky and Kansas. Churches are now open in a reduced capacity in both states.

Earlier this week, the CDC released a 60-page road map for states, restaurants, schools, child care programs, mass transit systems and other businesses, Axios' Alayna Treene notes.

  • Some religious leaders voiced concerns about churches being left out, sources familiar with the discussions tell Axios.

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