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Trump Labels Churches ‘Essential’, Important for America’s ‘Psyche’

President Donald J. Trump listens as landlord and auto shop owner Mr. Mario Salerno delivers remarks during the White House National Day of Prayer Thursday, May 7, 2020, in the Rose Garden of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian) Date: 7 May 2020, 16:04 Source: National Day of Prayer Author: The White House from Washington, DC

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services.”

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and shutdown culture became standard fare, calls to reopen churches have increased. Now, US President Donald Trump has added his voice to those outcries and declared churches as essential services, the Associated Press reported.

Trump Makes His Support Official

“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said during a White House press conference Friday. Although his administration has left the handling of the virus and determination to close businesses up to individual governors, he threatened to “override” any who refuse to permit churches to reopen.

To push the idea through Washington, Trump ordered the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to carry out his wishes.

“I just got off the phone with CDC and talked about churches. I said I want the churches to open, the people want the churches to open, and I think you’ll have something come down very soon, from CDC, we want to get our churches back,” Trump said during his trip to the Ford factory in Michigan on Thursday.

He also said they are “important in terms of the psyche of our country,” ABC News reported.

Following his declaration Friday, the CDC announced new guidelines for houses of worship, which include controlling the sizes of audiences. The CDC is also urging churches to provide services outdoors if possible and indoor events inside larger venues with sufficient ventilation.

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany said, “It is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines.”

Politicizing Church Closures

Trump’s stated rationale for urging the reopening of churches also has a political angle. Democrats, he said, have not given churches “respect” and the party’s governors were behind church closures.

“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.

By turning church closures into a political issue, the president might be trying to help himself in election polls, according to a White House insider who wished to remain anonymous.

The president chose to hold the press conference himself so he could score points with Republican voters, they said.

Recent polls among voters who identify as religious have found the president’s support sliding, POLITICO reported. An April survey by the Public Religion Research Institute exhibited weakening support among white voters who consider themselves evangelicals, Catholics, and Protestants. Each group recorded double-digit declines.

Pew Research Center also showed a 7-point decline among white Catholics and a 6-point loss among white Protestants from April to May.

Ahead of the Nov. 3 election, Trump is trying to shore up support among religious Americans, which he won over in 2016. Ralph Reed, director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition, said he has met with donors who believe Trump’s COVID-19 response is going to cost him support that he previously enjoyed. To stymie the loss of voter support, Reed said the coalition is undertaking a larger voter mobilization effort.

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence are also taking steps to reconnect with Christian voters. The president attended an online service by New York-based St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Pence convened a roundtable with religious leaders in Iowa at the beginning of May.

What’s Next?

While some faith leaders cheered the decision to reopen places of worship, there were still dissenting voices among them.

Rabbi Jack Moline, president of Interfaith Alliance, called the move “”completely irresponsible.” Furthermore, while he recognized faith as essential, houses of worship are not more protected from the virus than other types of gatherings, he said.

Restrictions on worship areas has prompted lawsuits in six states with plaintiffs arguing their constitutional rights have been infringed. Some pastors have continued holding services despite orders to close their doors, even to the point of arrest.

Although Trump issued the declaration Friday and the CDC issued revised guidelines, it is unclear how churches will react and if governors will intervene. In that event, it would pit the president against state officials, possibly setting up a Supreme Court battle. However, if states can prove a compelling interest to close churches, such as the pandemic, a court could rule it as more important than protecting the First Amendment rights. 

Daniel Davis

Daniel Davis is Managing Editor for The Osage County Herald-Chronicle in Kansas and also covers International news for Inside Over, a Milan-based global affairs publication. He graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Outside of writing, he enjoys photography and one day hopes to return to video production. Learn more about him at his website danieldavis.la.

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