United States President Donald Trump on Friday demanded that states allow religious services to take place again this weekend, thus ending shutdowns that were part of efforts to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
He made the proclamation, which he phrased in the form of a verbal order, from the White House briefing room.
His exact authority to dictate to states was unclear, but his words will carry political weight and potentially add pressure on state officials.
“Today I am identifying houses of worship – churches, synagogues and mosques – as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said, meaning they can be open during the pandemic.
He said the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) would be issuing guidance “at my direction,” although no CDC directives had been issued at the time of his speech.
Trump’s comments come amid reports that public health officials were hesitant to release sweeping recommendations on reopening houses of worship.
Church closures have stoked parts of Trump’s conservative base.
There is a partisan divide on lockdown orders, and, while the majority of the country remains concerned about the virus, Republicans are somewhat less wary and more likely to want faster re-openings.
“I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open, right now,” Trump said, adding that “the people are demanding” to be able to attend services at churches, synagogues, and mosques.