As I was making plans with my husband for Memorial Day weekend, my husband asked me how long it had been since I had gone to Mass.

We had just started the season of Lent when the California’s Governor Gavin Newsom mandated a coronavirus-caused lockdown of the state. Little did I realize how much I was giving up for Lent this year and that it would include Easter service.

There is more and more evidence that coronavirus cases are not “spiking” after states like Florida and Georgia reopen. Additionally, there are clear indications that the infection models were deeply flawed and that the “consensus” about how coronavirus infected people was wrong.

Many states are reopening slowly, however places of worship have not been deemed “essential” enough to make the cut for the early phases of the reopening. As a result, Americans across the country are clamoring to return to in-person faith services instead of making do with Zoom and YouTube broadcasts…or having Catholic priests using squirt guns for Holy Water blessings.

Now President Donald Trump is demanding that governors reopen churches, synagogues and mosques immediately, deeming them “essential.” Trump suggests he will “override” state leaders’ restrictions if they do not do so by the weekend.

The surprise announcement marked the president’s latest attempt to ramp up the political stakes surrounding the country’s coronavirus recovery efforts. He is facing a tough reelection fight against apparent Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Trump said it was an “injustice” that some state leaders have allowed “liquor stores and abortion clinics” to stay open amid the Covid-19 pandemic while closing houses of worship.

“It’s not right,” Trump said. “I’m calling houses of worship essential.”

“If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call,” Trump said of state leaders.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have developed guidelines specific to places of worship.

Faith leaders will need to make sure their churches remain safe when they welcome congregants, the president said, adding that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is issuing guidance for houses of worship to follow so they can reopen safely.

“They love their congregations. They love their people. They don’t want anything bad to happen to them or to anybody else,” Trump said. “The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now, for this weekend. If they don’t do it, I will override the governors.”

It’s unclear what authority Trump has to overrule governors’ emergency orders.

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said houses of worship in places with recent outbreaks of the coronavirus might need to wait a week or two, but that services can be held safely.

“There is a way to social distance … in places of worship,” Birx said.

Trump may be getting ahead of the curve with this move. For example, in California, more than 1,200 pastors say they will resume in-person services on May 31 in defiance of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order.

Newsom has gradually allowed some businesses to reopen as the state’s number of virus-related hospitalizations has flattened. But churches are still banned, along with hair salons and sporting events. Newsom said Monday churches could reopen in weeks, not months.

But many churches are tired of waiting. Wednesday, a lawyer representing a church in Lodi that has sued Newsom said more than 1,200 pastors have signed a “declaration of essentiality” that announces their plan to reopen on May 31 while observing physical distancing and other precautions.

Attorney Robert Tyler said some pastors represent multiple churches. He expects as many as 3,000 churches across California could have in-person services on May 31.

“This letter was not sent for the purposes of asking for permission,” he said.

And while many pastors are making plans for social-distance-style services, some constitutional scholars question whether Trump can make this move.

[University of Nevada – Las Vegas] history Professor Michael Green says the president doesn’t have the authority to override governors.

“The 10th amendment says if the rights are not reserved to the federal government they’ll belong to the states, the basic idea of federalism,” he said. “Well if the governors have issued these orders where in the constitution does it say the president can them override them. and it does not appear in the constitution that it says that.”

While it is good to see that university scholars do appreciate the 10th Amendment, it is also clear that the curve is flattened, hospitals have not been overwhelmed, and that Americans can act responsibly to reopen fully — churches included.

 

 
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