• Trump did not cite any authority that would give him the power to 'override' governors
  • Trump declared houses of worship essential
  • The administration has sided with churches that have sued to overturn stay-at-home orders

Declaring America needs “more prayer, not less,” President Trump on Friday declared religious services essential and said he would “override” any governor who does not allow churches to reopen this weekend. At the same time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for reopening houses of worship.

Trump said keeping churches, mosques and synagogues closed amounts to injustice.

“I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump said during a brief appearance in the White House briefing room.

Just 10 states, as of late April, had strict provisions against in-person religious gatherings: New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois, Minnesota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, California and Alaska. Most of the rest either limited gatherings to 10 people or exempted religious gatherings entirely.

“Today I am identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogue 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.” He said if governors don’t lift restrictions, “I will override them” although it was not immediately clear whether he has the authority.

He added: “In America we need more prayer, not less.”

A number of churches have defied restrictions and held in-person worship services that paid no attention to social distancing guidelines. Others have filed suit against shutdown orders, and the Justice Department has sided with them.

“Even in times of emergency, when reasonable and temporary restrictions are placed on rights, the First Amendment and federal statutory law prohibit discrimination against religious institutions and religious believers,” Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Two churches that opened early, Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle in Ringgold, Georgia, and Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston, were forced to close again after new infections were confirmed.

The CDC issued a set of guidelines that included setting aside space where the ill can be placed and to be ready to cancel events if necessary. It also encouraged stepped-up hygiene and sanitation practices. A draft of the guidelines rejected by the White House recommended that congregants wear face masks and urged the elimination of choirs.

Experts have warned ignoring social distancing recommendations could trigger a second wave of infections.

In New York, Gov. Mario Cuomo has recommended church gatherings be limited to 10 people and that all congregants wear masks and maintain social distance.