President Trump vowed Thursday to take action against Democratic governors whom he said are disrespecting churches by not allowing in-person worship services during the coronavirus crisis.
“One of the other things I want to do is get our churches open,” Mr. Trump told reporters at the White House. “The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. We’re going to take a very strong position on that very soon.”
Democrats such as Govs. Ralph Northam of Virginia, Gavin Newsom of California and Roy Cooper of North Carolina have come under fire for policies that have restricted gatherings at churches while allowing other aspects of civic life and commercial business to reopen.
More than 1,200 pastors across California say they’ll defy Mr. Newsom’s stay-at-home order and conduct in-person church services on May 31.
In North Carolina, a federal judge has ruled that religious leaders can open their doors to congregations despite Mr. Cooper’s warnings. The governor said he won’t appeal the decision.
The president said he wants “to get our country back to normal.”
In Virginia, the Justice Department issued a statement in support of a church that defied Mr. Northam’s ban on gatherings of more than 10 people.
Some local outbreaks in the U.S. have been tied to church events.
One of Georgia’s earliest clusters of COVID-19 has been traced to a lengthy March 1 service for a retiring music minister in Cartersville. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that at least four people who either attended the event or were close to someone who did later died.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report this week that traced 35 coronavirus cases, including three deaths, to events at a rural Arkansas church that held a three-day children’s event and a Bible study between March 6 and March 11.
The transmission was traced back to the pastor and his wife, making them the index cases in a county of 25,000 residents.
“Faith-based organizations that are operating or planning to resume in-person operations, including regular services, funerals, or other events, should be aware of the potential for high rates of transmission of SARS-CoV-2,” the CDC wrote. “These organizations should work with local health officials to determine how to implement the U.S. government’s guidelines for modifying activities during the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent transmission of the virus to their members and their communities.”
The Justice Department sent a letter to Mr. Newsom this week saying his order discriminates against churches. The governor, who has gradually allowed some businesses to reopen but not churches, said some houses of worship could reopen for limited services in the next several weeks.