May 22, 2020

President Donald Trump today called on governors in all 50 states to reopen houses of worship, regardless of the coronavirus circumstances in their states, and warned that he will force governors’ hands if they don’t.

Rachel Laser, president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, issued the following statement: 

“President Trump’s demand that governors allow all houses of worship to reopen this weekend is irresponsible and reckless – and tragically, will lead to more deaths. Trump’s cynical pandering to his religious extremist base is putting the health and well-being of the American people in jeopardy. 

“Decisions about how, when and if houses of worship can offer in-person services must be left to state and local public health officials who are familiar with the unique situations they face. President Trump has no power to override the nation’s governors in this area. In addition, the Constitution’s religious freedom protections prohibit the government from granting special privileges to religion that cause harm to others. Accordingly, we call on state officials to ignore Trump’s dangerous demand.

“The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned that moving too quickly to allow large gatherings will spark a second wave of infections. In addition, the CDC’s own reports note that houses of worship have been common vectors for transmission of the virus. We must proceed cautiously and not rush headlong into ill-conceived measures that put the lives of Americans at risk.”

In at least 21 cases across the country, courts have already ruled that states have the authority to issue public health orders that limit large gatherings at both secular and religious entities. Americans United has filed 17 amicus briefs in these kinds of cases, urging courts to protect both public health and religious freedom by treating secular and religious gatherings equally.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.