Trump Insists It's Open Season for Churches

May 26, 2020

Even though we're in a presidential election year, liberals have yet to roll out their favorite catch phrase: separation of church and state! Maybe that's because -- in the wake of the coronavirus -- some Democratic governors have brazenly crossed that line of "separation," placing stricter restrictions on church gatherings than other establishments like restaurants, malls, and even casinos. But enough is enough. And on Friday, after hearing from pastors all across the country, President Trump took advantage of his bully pulpit to start getting pastors behind their own.

Calling together members of the media for a surprise briefing, the president had a message for America's governors: Do the right thing. "...[A]llow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend. If they don't do it," he warned, "I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less." Even before Friday's press conference, the Trump DOJ has been working almost around the clock, sending attorneys into states where leaders have been less than cooperative with the First Amendment. In places like Mississippi and California, the unequal treatment has been so stunning that the attorney general himself had to personally intervene.

The president has obviously been watching these injustices, pointing out that "Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential. It's not right. So I'm correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential places that provide essential services." Then, in a nod to the risks of in-person services, he assured people that the public health was in good hands. "The ministers, pastors, rabbis, imams, and other[s] will make sure their congregations are safe as they gather."

The CDC helped guarantee that by issuing new guidance for faith communities. The suggestions are what most Americans have come to expect during the coronavirus -- everything from social distancing, masks, and deep-cleaning to no shared communion cups, hymnals, and other property. Of course, as many will point out, they're recommendations, not requirements -- knowing that the ultimate decisions rest with pastors, not the government. "Implementation should be guided by what is feasible, practical, and acceptable, and tailored to the needs and traditions of each community of faith. The information offered is non-binding public health guidance for consideration only; it is not meant to regulate or prescribe standards for interactions of faith communities in houses of worship."

Meanwhile, out in California, the president's message seemed to have hit its mark. Governor Gavin Newsom (D), who's been a thorn in every congregation's side, finally backed off his hardline policy and paved the way for houses of worship to start welcoming people in small numbers. That's a major victory for the state's pastors -- 1,200 of whom had already politely informed him they were moving ahead anyway. For now, the state's health department is asking for just 25 percent of the buildings' capacity -- or 100 people, whichever is lower. If counties choose, they can impose stricter rules. But at least for now, Newsom is changing his tune.

Of course, the far-Left -- who's enjoyed keeping Christians locked up and away from society -- can't stand the idea that the president's strongest base may soon be reunited. Some members of the liberal media are even trying to paint Trump's directive as the move of a desperate president. In the New York Times, Peter Baker insisted that by treating churches like every other organization, the president is somehow "wading into the culture wars." That, in the end, these congregations aren't "essential" to anything but Trump's political future.

Politico followed the Times into the mud, arguing that the president only did this to "safeguard his relationship with religious conservatives." Both are wrong. I know it's hard for the cynical, cultural elite to understand, but anyone who's spent any time at all watching the Trump administration for these past three and a half years knows that the president's commitment to religious liberty isn't a gimmick. It's not a campaign shtick. It's an honest-to-goodness, top-to-bottom administration priority that he's made good on at every possible moment. Suggesting that he wants to reopen churches to mine votes in November isn't just shoddy journalism, it's absurd.

Frankly, the whole idea of in-person worship shouldn't even be controversial -- let alone partisan! It's simply treating churches, mosques, and synagogues the same as everyone else. If that's "firing a salvo in the culture war," then our country's in trouble. Because going to church isn't Republican. It isn't Democratic. It's American. And the minute we think otherwise, we've lost.