A little while ago, President Trump spoke briefly to the White House press corps, announcing that the Centers for Disease Control is about to designate churches, synagogues and mosques as essential facilities. Trump says that he is directing governors to lift their shutdown orders and allow churches to operate, now. If they fail to do so, “I will override the governors.” See the first couple of minutes of this video:
Here in Minnesota, churches have been openly discriminated against by our left-wing governor, Tim Walz. Under his current shutdown order, restaurants and bars can serve up to 50 people outdoors, churches only 10. When asked by a reporter to explain this discrimination against churches, Walz blathered for a minute or two and then admitted, “I will acknowledge, the logic of that argument is sound.” Not sound enough, however, to change his mind. Similar discrimination against churches, synagogues and mosques is taking place across the country.
Can the president actually “override the governors” if they refuse to allow places of worship to function? Not immediately. But the law is clear that under the 1st Amendment, states cannot disfavor churches compared with similarly situated secular institutions. If a state allows Target, Walmart, Total Wine, bars and the local abortion clinic to operate, it can’t deny the same right to churches under the same conditions. So the Department of Justice can swing into action to enforce the Constitution against recalcitrant governors like Tim Walz, much as DOJ helped to enforce Brown v. Board of Education when Southern governors refused to desegregate.
So it was a good morning for President Trump and for the U.S.A.
UPDATE: The CDC guidelines for opening places of worship are here. They are onerous. During the last ten minutes of the press briefing, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany takes the stage and is barraged with questions about opening the churches. Reporters who undoubtedly have no problem shopping at Costco, Target and Total Wine seem to view churches as unique centers of disease. Weirdly, McEnany, who is a lawyer, responds to this barrage without making the fundamental point that it is illegal to discriminate against religious practice. She mentions the First Amendment, but doesn’t explain how, exactly, it comes into play.
On the other hand, she finishes with a flourish, talking about the Russia hoax. The discussion is triggered by a question as to whether President Trump has considered pardoning President Obama for any potential crimes associated with that scandal. At the end, she concludes by giving reporters a list of questions that they should ask former President Obama’s spokesman. She will check back with them on Tuesday, but I am sure she won’t be holding her breath.