Pushing on states to loosen Coronavirus limits on business, schools, and restaurants, President Donald Trump on Thursday escalated warnings from his administration about re-opening churches, accusing Democratic Governors of standing in the way of religious liberty.
"One of the other things I want to do is get the churches open," the President told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before going to Michigan.
"The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of Democrat Governors," President Trump said. "I want to get our churches open."
The President's remarks amplified growing calls among Republicans for virus restrictions to be dropped on churches, part of a broader GOP argument against Democrats over how the Coronavirus has been dealt with.
TRUMP: “The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat Governors. I want to get our churches open.” pic.twitter.com/OTsIplOtn3— Benny (@bennyjohnson) May 21, 2020
Hey @GovernorVA, why are churches in Northern Virginia shuttered while Tyson’s Corner Center Mall is reopened?— CesarConda (@CesarConda) May 21, 2020
Where’s the data showing 50% capacity, masks, social distancing, no live choir, continued virtual mass for elderly is unsafe for parishioners? https://t.co/7acSTbtJPH
Mr. Trump's comments also come as the Centers for Disease has yet to issue guidelines about how churches should deal with the Coronavirus re-opening, amid press reports that the White House has rejected the idea of limits on church activities.
The President's statement to reporters came two days after the Justice Department warned the state of California its Coronavirus rules might be discriminating against churches.
"Simply put, there is no pandemic exception to the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights," read part of a three page letter from the head of the Justice Department's civil rights division.
But even with highly restricted church operations in California, there have been Coronavirus infections.
In northern California, a Mother's Day church service earlier this month - live streamed to parishioners by a skeleton crew at a church - resulted in three people being infected by the Coronavirus.
And in another Mother's Day church service - this time a gathering of some 180 people north of Sacramento - one person who attended tested positive for the virus the next day.
Person with coronavirus attends Mother's Day church service, exposes 180 in Butte County https://t.co/hCD1j7Hg3Y— Kitty Wooley (@kwooleyy) May 17, 2020
Here's a CDC review of a COVID-19 church cluster, this one is from Arkansas. https://t.co/YH1pTBofli— Jamie Dupree (@jamiedupree) May 20, 2020
Earlier this week, the CDC issued a review of a Coronavirus cluster outbreak at a church in Arkansas, where the pastor and his wife seemingly spurred dozens of cases, which also spread to the larger community.
Of the 92 people who attended church events with those two, at least 35 were infected, and three ended up dying.
"Churches should open when it is safe to do so," wrote Father James Martin, a Jesuit priest, and editor of America Magazine.
"Churches should open when public health officials, who know more about epidemiology than church leaders do, conclude that it is safe to do so," Martin wrote, responding to President Trump's remarks on Thursday.