Trump Deems Houses of Worship ‘Essential,’ Threatens to ‘Override’ Governors if They’re Not Permitted to Open

"Trump lacks the authority to override state decisions regarding closures of businesses and institutions since the Constitution delegates police powers to the states." - NR 

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Aaron Blumer's picture


He really doesn't have that authority. Romans 13 commands obedience to the "powers that exist" not "the powers that think they exist," so the President's assertions on this have no relevance at all to what churches ought to do.

State and local.

(Anyone else notice that he attempts to exceed his authority almost every day now? Sometimes multiple times a day? Just this morning or yesterday he was complaining that Fox News isn't doing what he wants them to do... with personal insults, etc. A day or two ago he was threatening states for pursuing vote by mail, calling it illegal, when it was and is not. We have a word for leaders who constantly try to exceed their authority... but it doesn't apply to Trump because Hillary, because Obama, because the media, because abortion and Biden and AOC and Pelosi etc etc etc. The word is tyrant.)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

pvawter's picture

This may vary state by state a bit, but here in Wisconsin churches were deemed essential throughout the extent of the stay at home order. Declaring them essential doesn't actually change the power of the health department to shut them down temporarily during a pandemic.

TylerR's picture


I doubt very much he has the authority. However:

  • I'm really not interested in not opening because I want to debate Constitutional law.
  • I'm really not interested in arguing with church members who don't understand why I'm reluctant to do what the President said
  • I'm really not interested in telling Jesus one day that, yes, the President told me to open but my Governor didn't say "yes"
  • I'm really not interested in being a pawn in a political game (yes, that's all this is) the President is playing to shore up sagging poll numbers
  • I really don't care that this is a political stunt

I'll take it. We're opening this Sunday and we'll follow the guidelines the CDC released. JMac announced they're going on-site starting this Sunday in response to the President's announcement. Pastors who don't will have some explaining to do. They may be ready and willing to do that explaining. I wish them luck.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Joeb's picture

I agree with everything your both saying.  Wow   

Jonathan Charles's picture

In Pennsylvania, things have opened up allowing gatherings of 25.  I noticed in paper that the regional Catholic diocese was instructing churches to limit gatherings to 1/3 of maximum occupancy.  I called state Senator's office and was told that, just like Wal Mart, churches can meet as long as they limit their crowd to what they can hold while practicing social distancing. We're going for it tomorrow.

And as far as Trump, he can surely work through Barr and the justice department to attempt to get states keeping churches closed or severely restricted to have to allow them to open.  

Larry's picture


Pastors who don't will have some explaining to do. They may be ready and willing to do that explaining.

IMO, one of the problems from the beginning was that churches shut down because the government said to. I think Romans 13 (invoked by Aaron above) was the wrong approach. The government was forbidding something God commanded. 

We did shut down, but not because of the governor's orders. We shut down because of public safety and good reputation in the community and we will reopen on the same criteria.

I think the difficulty in explanation will be for those who said, "We have to shut down because of the government's order." Now they have to explain why the government's order no longer means they have to shut down. I think what will be seen is that most did not shut down because of the governor's orders but because they agreed with it. I just wish they would have said that up front. It would require less of an explanation now that they no longer agree with it.

I doubt Trump has this power. I doubt he thinks he does. And there doesn't seem to be evidence that he is exceeding his authority everyday. It's probably closer to leadership--using the leadership of the office to influence others.  It is interesting though that a lot of governors wanted a national shutdown they don't want a national reopening. Of course, that's politics for you. In the end, this will never be litigated. It is as much campaigning as it is public policy. 

JD Miller's picture

Wow, Trump defends our right to worship and he is being attacked?  I did not vote for him, but I am starting to think that Trump derrangement syndrom is a real thing.  Part of the issue is that many governors are not equally applying the law and are singling out churches.  That is illegal and it is the job of the executive branch to enforce the law (civics 101).  The highest law in the land is the Constitution and it allows for freedom of worship.  The issue of suspending the constitution for a pandemic is a legal theory, that would have to be tested at the Supreme Court.  I know what side I want to be on in that battle.  I am glad we have a president that is stepping up to protect our right to worship.  I am astounded that people who call themselves Christians are upset about that.  The CDC just came out with the latest info on the mortality rate and COVID-19 is 0.26 based on current data.  That is only a little over twice as deadly as the flu and we have people on this site saying we should have our right to assemble for worship taken away over that.  I am ashamed of what I am reading.  

JD Miller's picture

Let me get this straight:  Governors are suspending the constitution and they are not being called power hungry but the president is defending the Constitution and he is being called power hungry- and this is not coming from atheists but form professing Christians.  Beware of those who call good evil and evil good.

TylerR's picture


We re-opened this past Sunday. Here's the Cliff-Notes version of why:

  • The President's announcement gave immeasurable moral support to religious leaders, as it was intended to do. We wouldn't have re-opened if he hadn't done it.
  • The CDC released interim guidelines for churches. We wouldn't have re-opened without them.
  • The designation of "essential" is a sad reflection of the value our culture places on certain activities.
  • As the re-opening progresses slowly, the justification for the initial "essential/non-essential" designations become increasingly meaningless and arbitrary. I was prepared to go along with it initially because COVID-19 seemed to present a very real danger to all communities. However, as the NYSE is prepared to return to in-person trading, cannabis shops have always been opened, coffee shops have always been opened, and employees of all these establishments (and others) are deemed "safe" to work all day in close proximity to other people, and my own 16-yr old son is deemed "allowed" to go to McDonalds to work for 8 hours in a confined space among other people grilling burgers ... am I really supposed to agree that it's "unsafe" to go to church for 1.5 hours on Sunday morning to worship the Lord? This was a critical consideration for me.
  • At this stage, about 70 days in, I see our Governor's continued ban on church gatherings until Phase 3 as a unwitting secular valuation of religious faith, not as a reflection of the relative safety of corporate worship. This was a critical consideration for me.

So, we re-opened. We are only doing morning worship service on-site; all other classes are via Zoom. Our Governor has said nothing meaningful on the record since the President's announcement. I am confident resting on Romans 13 with President Trump's announcement, given the issues I outlined above.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

dmyers's picture

No, Trump doesn't have the unilateral power to override a governor's decision to close churches. He does have the power, authority, and responsibility to use the Justice Department to defend citizens from overbroad and unconstitutional state orders. He also has the power, authority, and duty to use his bully pulpit to call out .tyrannical governors. Doing so does not conceivably make him the tyrant. Bluntly, Whitmer, Cuomo, Inslee, Newsom, and Northam are tyrants; Trump is not. 

Aaron, you're off the deep end. You need to get over yourself, repent of your idolatry of David French (and of your refusal to post any filings defending Trump against irrational haters such as French), and work on regaining some credibility. 

TylerR's picture


I have had some thoughts rumbling through my mind, but I haven't bothered to explore them:

  • I don't believe the Apostle Paul has in mind US Constitutional law, or the nuances of any law code, when he orders us to obey the authorities over us.
  • I think his point is very basic = obey your leaders.
  • However, Paul lived in a time when the Roman Empire was an autocracy; the Republic had died before Jesus' time. There was no nuance about the Senate vs. the Emperor, or any idea of competing governmental authority structures. I may be wrong, but I think I am generically correct.
  • So, must I only obey the President is he is using the powers from the Constitution properly? That is, even if I assume he is correct in spirit to declare that churches are "essential," must I disobey him if I believe he doesn't have the Constitutional authority to declare that? Do I then obey my Governor, and ignore the President?
  • Would Paul have cared about these distinctions? Should we? Or, should we just consider the more basic point - churches are essential and we should meet if we follow the safety guidelines set by the CDC?

Right now, my inclination is to simply go with the President and ignore the rest - given the rest of the items I noted in my post, above. I'm not sure this is the "right" decision. But, it's what we're sticking with. This is an interesting question. My default reasoning when it comes to tricky things like this is pretty simplistic - would I be comfortable telling Jesus, "yes, I did that and here's why?" If not, then I probably shouldn't do it. In this case, I'm comfortable telling Jesus I wasn't worried about the nuances of US Constitutional law but was sticking with what my President declared.

However, I'm well aware this same logic could paint me into a trap if a future President decides to "declare" something opposed to the Christian faith from a White House podium. I then take refuge behind, "what hath God said" a la Acts 4.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

M. Osborne's picture

The pandemic response has prompted me to try to better understand how to apply Romans 13. How's this?

When God gives a command, no one can countermand it. If God says Christians should meet (stay with me), then come judgment day, if I didn't obey it, the excuse of "My government said not to" just isn't going to fly.

Now God doesn't say how large the congregation should be, where they should meet (building versus house versus outdoors), etc. (Btw, I do believe it means physically assembling.)

But I've become reluctant to say that we closed up or opened up based on any word from the government. And I am reluctant to bother running through the constitutional processes of bringing lawsuits against the government as if, if I lost, then I'd acquiesce to the government. (I cringed when Grace Community Church said they'd happily comply with the 9th Circuit ruling...would they be willing to comply if that lasted forever?)

We can take precautions and also try to work within expectations so as not to make ourselves a stench (e.g., smaller congregational sizes, etc.), but I'm reluctant to ever concede that the government has any right to dictate how we go about worshiping God.

Michael Osborne
Philadelphia, PA

JD Miller's picture

Wonderful post.  Thank you.  

Joeb's picture

Baptist Pastor Stacy Schifflet in MD, who I consider an absolute HERO, opened his church and followed all the rules and still got fined by his County Health Department.  His congregation only had 100 people in a 600 seat auditorium at the time and all social distancing and masks and he still got fined. Now that's as ridicules as you can get.  Pastor Schifflet is not a happy camper and I don't blame him.  I wonder if County is run by a IFB Republican who didn't like what Stacy did to Gionovelli.