Trump Deems Churches Essential, but Has No Power to Force Reopening


Numerous businesses are either shut down or offering only curbside pickup to slow the spread of COVID-19. You can even get your favorite clothes, weekly pet food order and takeout dinner delivered to your door. But one establishment in particular can’t deliver its services in the same way: a church.

Adding fuel to an already contentious debate, President Donald Trump has weighed in on the issue of houses of worship.

Trump speaks at a press conference

On Friday, Trump issued a statement condemning some US governors. “Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics essential, but have left our churches and houses of worship. It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential,” Trump stated in a White House address.

Trump even threatened to override any governor who disagreed with him.This comes as a reassurance to some, but it is confusing for others.

Supporters of Trump’s declaration note the important role worship plays in the lives of millions of Americans. Many people find comfort, solace and meaning in their religion, and church is a huge aspect of that.

Others, however, find Trump’s declaration baffling. While religion is important, some argue, meeting in-person isn’t the only way to worship. Risking infecting a congregation with COVID-19, some argue, is a public health hazard.

Trump Can’t Force Reopening

Despite his declaration on Friday, Trump doesn’t actually have any power to force states to allow churches to reopen.

The Justice Department is of the opinion that, when non-essential businesses are reopening, churches should be able to open, too. However, that’s not what’s happening under plans like California’s phased reopening schedule.

While Trump may wish for houses of worship to resume normal service, it’s not quite that simple. While the president has the authority to issue executive orders, those orders can’t compel states to change their local ordinances.

As states continue adapting their emergency orders to respond to the COVID pandemic, it’s up to local and state authorities to allow businesses and churches to reopen.

Alternatives to In-Person Worship

While faith is important for many people, the continued public health efforts are likely to make in-person worship difficult, or even impossible, for the foreseeable future. As various states adapt to the ever-changing situation, there are alternatives to in-person worship that the faithful can pursue.

Many churches are holding services online, via teleconference. This is a way to connect to your church even when you’re not physically within its walls. Similarly, even informal church groups can organize via video conferencing in order to engage in religious fellowship. While the current public health situation makes things difficult, there are options to keep everyone connected, even when they’re physically distant.