President Trump this afternoon declared places of worship essential during the coronavirus pandemic, following his pressuring of governors to do the same as they work to reopen their respective states. His guidance will effectively release places of worship from stay at home orders currently in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The Secular Coalition for America, which represents many of the largest nationwide secular, atheist, humanist, and nonbeliever organizations in the country spoke out against the President’s declaration.
“The President has once again overstepped his constitutional authority and ignored the rule of law to appease his religious base,” stated Casey Brinck, Director of Policy & Government Affairs at the Secular Coalition for America. “It’s an overtly political decision that poses a serious, ongoing threat to public health and infringes upon the secular nature of our government that is so clearly outlined in the First Amendment.”
As some parts of the nation ease away from the stay-at-home orders that are critical to staving off the continued spread of the virus, others have extended theirs, as the continued rise in infections shows that America is not “out of the woods” yet by any means. Many states are taking that reality into account as they consider when and how to reopen their states, but most are not redefining essential services to include new types of entities.
According to the National Law Review, a reasonable example of essential services would include “energy (electricity, oil and gas), transport (air, rail, water and road), banking, financial market infrastructure, healthcare (hospitals and clinics), drinking water and digital infrastructure.
“Places of worship, objectively, are not essential services and the activities performed in those places can be done just as easily at home,” continued Brinck. “There is no reason to open places of worship before it is safe for the public health, other than for the President to grandstand and campaign to his religious base. For the health and safety of their constituents, our nation’s governors must continue to act independently and base their decisions on science and the data that is continuously made available to them.”