Donald Trump, again, attempting to usurp state powers, declared today (May 22) that he had the authority to reopen churches as “essential services,” even though packed houses of worship are considered “superspreaders” of COVID-19 virus.
So far, more than 30 pastors have died from the infection. Many of those pastors had defied social distancing and other recommendations by health officials.
Nonetheless, Trump announced that he was ordering the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) to draft regulations designating churches, synagogues and mosques as “essential places that provide essential services.”
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential, but have left out houses of worship. It’s not right,” Trump said. “So I’m correcting this injustice by calling houses of worship essential,” he said at a news conference.
“If they don’t do it, I will override the governors,” the president threatened.
Legal experts where quick to point out that the administration lacks the legal power to force states to follow his pronouncements.
Under the 10th amendment to the Constitution, states have all the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government. That gives governors wide authority to order businesses, schools and other institutions to close during a public health emergency.
Churches are considered “superspreaders” of viruses because people pack into pews for services.
One church in South Korea is believed to have provided a setting for thousands of people to contract the virus over the course of a month. At one point, it accounted for half the country’s total confirmed cases, according to The Huffington Post.
In the United States, The Church of God in Christ, the country’s biggest African American Pentecostal denomination, reports that as many as 30 bishops and prominent clergy have died from COVID-19.
A Virginia pastor who vowed to keep preaching “unless I’m in jail or the hospital” died after contracting COVID-19.
The pastor, Gerald O. Glenn, 66, the bishop and founder of New Deliverance Evangelistic Church in Chesterfield, Va., defied warnings about the danger of religious gatherings during the pandemic, according to The New York Times.
“I firmly believe that God is larger than this dreaded virus,” Glenn said in a sermon on March 22.
The next day, Va. Gov. Ralph Northam banned all public and private gatherings of 10 people or more. At least four of the pastor’s family members now have the virus.
Two churches in Houston have decided not to resume in-person services after an outbreak of COVID-19 among its members.
One of the priests at the Texas church, Father Donnell Kirchner, is believed to have died from the virus, according to Newsweek.
Trump said he believes religious leaders will be able to keep their congregations safe.
Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, immediately walked back the president’s proclamation.
Clarifying the president’s announcement, she suggested that the most at-risk worshippers should continue to stay home.
Elderly people have proved to be significantly more likely to experience severe symptoms or to die from complications of COVID-19.
“Certainly people who have significant comorbidities, we want them protected,” Birx said.
Despite the climbing death toll, church leaders mainly in southern states known as the Bible Belt have continued to hold services.
What’s more, they have urged worshippers to continue paying tithes — including recent stimulus checks — to support their missions.
Outside of the south, most congregations are following stay-at-home guidelines, according to recent polling by Religious News Service.
It found that nearly 90 per cent of congregations have closed their churches and encouraged worship at home.
According to its survey results, 30 states have no stay-at-home restrictions or have religious exemptions — for instance, the Dakotas as well as Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Ten states have stay-at-home orders that do not fully restrict religious gatherings, such as Ohio and Oregon.
Nine states and the District of Columbia have restricted religious gatherings.
Even so, only 12% of respondents reported that their congregations were open to in-person worship at the time of the survey, the RNS reported.