WH: White House Reporters Seem to Want Churches to Stay Closed

By Melanie Arter | May 22, 2020 | 5:24pm EDT
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 6, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany speaks during a briefing in the Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House in Washington, DC, May 6, 2020. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Following President Donald Trump’s announcement that he now considers places of worship to be “essential,” White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany pushed back on questions Friday about where Trump has the authority to order governors to allow churches to safely reopen.

“A couple of questions to follow up on the president’s announcement. First, just to clarify, he came out and said, I’m calling on governors to allow churches and places of worship to open up right now. Dr. Birx just said in areas where they have high cases of COVID-19, maybe they should think about waiting a week. Which is it and why the mixed messaging?” NBC’s Kristen Welker asked.


“That’s up to the governors. As it’s said in our guidance, we note that while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals, including as a right protected by the First Amendment. The president wants to see the communities open. Dr. Birx was integral to making these guidelines, and they lay out a pretty clear path for faith communities to reopen,” McEnany said.

Welker asked under what authority can Trump override the governors’ order, and the reporter pointed out that weeks ago, the president said it’s all up to the governors on when to reopen.

“I think you’re posing a hypothetical. You are posing a hypothetical though. You’re assuming governors will keep churches shut down, keep mosques shut down, and keep synagogues shut down. That is a hypothetical question. We will leave it to faith communities to reopen. I think we can all hope that this Sunday people are allowed to pray to their gods across this country,” the press secretary said.

“That is a good thing, and I’d also note there is detailed guidance in here about the way you can clean your facilities, promote social distancing, so this is something we should all look at and be thankful that we are encouraging faith communities to reopen in a safe way. We will need it for parishes to open in a safe fashion,” she said.

“If the governor does not allow that, does the White House support churches defying these executive orders?” a reporter asked.

“The president’s been very clear. He wants to see churches reopen in accordance with his guidelines,” McEnany said.

“So the answer is yes?” the reporter asked.

“I just gave you an answer. The president would like churches to reopen and do it in accordance with the guidelines,” McEnany said.

“What specific provision of federal law allows the president to override a governor’s decision?” the reporter asked.

“The president will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen, and boy, it’s interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship to stay closed,” McEnany said.

Reuters reporter Jeff Mason objected to McEnany’s remarks, saying he’s “dying to go back to church.”

“I object to that. I mean I go to church. I'm dying to go back to church. The question that we are asking you and would like to have asked the president and Dr. Birx, is, is it safe, and if it’s not safe, is the president trying to encourage that or does the president agree with Dr. Birx that people should wait,” Mason said.

“Jeff, it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines, which are laid out, very stringent detail here about promoting hygiene practices and there are five bullet points and cloth face coverings,” the press secretary said. “If social distancing is not possible, it’s recommended, intensifying cleanings, promoting social distance. 

“We laid them out meticulously, so I am thankful that we have a president that celebrates the First Amendment, the same amendment to give you all the ability to ask me questions is there to have the freedom of worship so imams and pastors can go to their churches, can go to their places of worship and can celebrate what is a First Amendment right in this country, which is to pray to your God and to practice your faith ---,” McEnany said.

“We celebrate that too. I just want to follow up by saying we celebrate that too, but we’re not asking you if the president or if people are allowing Americans to pray,” Mason said.

“To gather in their places of worship, to attend church services, to pray together. The president has laid out a clear path. The CDC has laid out a clear path for this to take place, for our First Amendment to be exercised in a way that is safe and robust, and that is something that is a good thing, and I'm thankful that we have a president who celebrates the First Amendment and helps it to be celebrated in its fullest and most robust way possible,” McEnany said.

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