Imam Mohamed Nuh Dahir stands where would typically be a packed mosque for Friday prayer at the Islamic Center of St. Cloud. Paul Middlestaedt for MPR News

May 23, 2020 – President Donald J. Trump called upon governors this Friday to reopen houses of worship amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic during a White House briefing, claiming that churches, synagogues and mosques provided “essential services” and that local governments should do so “right now.”

This declaration was made after the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) newest guidelines for communities of faith were announced, stating that, “gathering together for worship is at the heart of what it means to be a community of faith,” but also warned that these gatherings may, “present a risk for increasing the spread of COVID-19 during this public health emergency.”

As social distancing protocols vary by state, many governors have been faced with the issue of releasing consistent plans to loosen restrictions, and Trump openly opposed their decisions of opening businesses, such as liquor stores and abortion clinics, before religious establishments.

Although the CDC released general guidelines for school and businesses last week, houses of worship were not specifically mentioned, as the White House raised concerns about the restrictions regarding faith-based groups, as reported by the Associated Press.

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” President Trump said. “We need more prayer, not less.”

Trump’s decision was also met with backlash, as Olivia Lapeyrolerie, Mayor Bill de Blasio’s deputy press secretary, said that large gatherings would not be advisable, and especially that gathering for worship would jeopardize New Yorkers’ health.

Lapeyrolerie’s worries extend far beyond New York, as Houston was recently among the first to reopen its Catholic churches again, but not after long, was forced to close and cancel mass indefinitely after the death of a priest and five others testing positive for coronavirus.

During Easter and Passover, churches and synagogues remained closed, which encouraged worshippers to attend virtual and parking lot services across the nation. This resulted in the overall reduced risk of COVID-19 exposure, while prompting communities to “flatten the curve.”

With Eid-al-Fitr approaching this weekend, mosques across the country have followed the same procedures, urging Muslims to celebrate and pray at home. As Eid is typically celebrated out with friends and extended family, many have come to realize that this one will be spent in isolation, breaking from tradition.

Trump’s plan of action is still under question, as the President does not have any legal authority to override governors’ decisions. It will be up to the discretion of each state’s governors to appoint the re-openings of religious institutions.

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