Unprecedented social distancing rules have upended Americans’ normal ways of life, and one of the most devastating effects is that churches cannot safely meet under current guidelines.
Trump expressed heartfelt disappointment about the situation, saying during his Wednesday coronavirus briefing that “My biggest disappointment is that churches can’t meet in this time of need.”
“This is really a great time for churches to be together – for people to be together on a Sunday or any day that they meet.”
No gatherings over 10
Despite his sympathy for those hoping to be able to attend services, he continued, “If you do it close, you’re really giving this invisible enemy a really big advantage. You get too close and somebody’s sick, you’ll probably catch it, so you have to be careful.”
Vice President Mike Pence, leader of the White House coronavirus task force, echoed Trump’s words, disclosing that he’s been attending virtual worship services at home with his wife.
“We really believe this is a time when people should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people,” Pence said. “And, and so, we continue to urge churches around America to heed to that.”
Many religious leaders have jump onboard the social distancing train. President of the Family Research Council Tony Perkins said that he does not view the rules as an attack on religious freedom but that the directive is “for the sake of public health not to meet.”
Not all church leaders have complied with orders to close their doors, resulting in the arrest of a Florida pastor and the citation of a New Orleans leader.
As Trump has left the extent and enforcement of lockdown orders up to state governors, some states have taken a very hardline approach to ensure compliance with social distancing requirements.
Florida pastor Rodney Howard-Browne was arrested on Sunday and charged with “unlawful assembly” and “violation of public health emergency order,” after holding a service on Sunday, Fox News reported.
New York City mayor Bill de Blasio threatened on Friday to permanently shut down any houses of worship that violated his stay-at-home order, prompting an outcry from religious leaders nationwide.
Meanwhile, Texas Governor Greg Abbott took the opposite tack, giving churches the option to meet in person via an executive order that designates churches as an “essential service.” Abbott still encouraged leaders to broadcast online services and practice social distancing if they do choose to gather.