Updated at 3 p.m. ET
President Trump said Friday that state governors should allow churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship to reopen immediately.
In brief comments at the White House, Trump said houses of worship are “essential places that provide essential services.” Churches have faced restrictions for gatherings and ceremonies as public health officials worked to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Some have chafed at the restrictions.
Trump said governors should allow the houses of worship to reopen “right now for this weekend.” The president threatened that if they don’t, “I will override the governors,” he said, adding, “In America, we need more prayer, not less.”
“These are places that hold our society together,” he said.
It’s not clear what authority Trump has to override states who wish to keep houses of worship closed. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany didn’t elaborate on what action Trump would take if governors didn’t direct churches and other places of worship to open, calling those situations hypothetical.
“We can all hope that this Sunday, people are allowed to pray to their gods across this country,” she said.
Trump said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had released guidance to help churches reopen but did not provide details. White evangelicals have been among Trump’s strongest supporters.
Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus task force coordinator, said faith leaders considering reopening should be in touch with their local health departments to advise their congregants properly. She also said people with risk factors or comorbidities in communities with a high number of cases may consider staying away for now.
“I know those houses of worship want to protect them. … Maybe they can’t go this week,” she said.
“But there is way to social distance … in places of worship.”
Birx also encouraged people to enjoy the outdoors during the Memorial Day weekend, including going to beaches, golfing or playing tennis, as long as they maintain 6 feet of social distancing.