President Donald Trump said he has deemed churches and other houses of worship “essential” and called on governors to allow them to reopen this weekend despite the coronavirus threat.
“Today I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Mr Trump said during a hastily arranged press conference.
He said if governors do not abide by his request, he will “override” them, though it is unclear what authority he has to do so.
The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention had prepared reopening guidelines for churches and other houses of worship weeks ago, but the White House refused to release them until Thursday when Mr Trump abruptly changed course.
“I said ‘You better put it out.’ And they’re doing it,” Mr Trump said on Thursday at a Ford Motor plant repurposed to make ventilators in Michigan.
“And they’re going to be issuing something today or tomorrow on churches. We got to get our churches open.”
On Friday, Mr Trump stressed the importance of churches in many communities and took issue with some of the businesses that had been allowed to reopen.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united. The people are demanding to go to church and synagogue, go to their mosque,” he said.