Trump ordered states to open churches. Can he do that?

The Justice Department's own actions show just how little power the president has to force the outcome he wants

5/24/2020 12:00:00 AM

The Justice Department's own actions show just how little power the president has to force the outcome he wants

The Justice Department's own actions show just how little power the president has to force the outcome he wants.

“There may have been few lawsuits filed, but there have been a lot of back-channel, government-to-government calls made,” Zachary Terwilliger, the U.S. Attorney based in Alexandria, Va., told POLITICO. “Folks have decided to stand down once they realize we’re serious and this is not just rhetoric.”

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Terwillinger welcomed Trump’s statements Friday and said the idea that churches are essential has a compelling, common-sense logic to it.“If we’re in a situation where we’ve got Wal-Mart open with social distancing, why not church? This is essential for some people…. This is as essential as a liquor store, as essential as a tattoo parlor,” the prosecutor and former senior Justice Department official said.

Critics said Trump’s comments may not have been tied to any federal action, but rather to encourage churchgoers and ministers to defy state officials, precipitating on-the-ground conflicts and bad publicity that governors would likely avoid by softening their virus-related activity bans.

Trump’s statements “mislead people and embolden people to defy important public safety orders and put everyone at risk,” Laser said.Trump’s drive to re-open churches comes despite a growing body of evidence tying church services to serious outbreaks of coronavirus. Just Tuesday, the Centers for Disease Control released

about Arkansas church meetings in March where more than a third of 92 attendees wound up infected. Another 26 members of the community wound up hit by the virus. Four people died.Similar church-focused outbreaks have been reported inWashington state, South Korea and France. Experts theorize that hand-holding, singing and the fellowship typical of church services create robust vectors to transmit the virus, particularly through airborne droplets.

Laser said those episodes undercut the notion that going to church is just like going to the liquor store or Home Depot. “If you start to think about the activity, it’s very different than going to purchase whiskey,” she said. “Liquor stores don’t exist as community places of gathering where there are going to be exchanges of germs…The distinction is based in public safety.”

Several institutional and legal hurdles have limited the Justice Department effort.One is that Trump and other federal officials have declared states of emergency over the pandemic that remain in effect. The Justice Department itself has relied on the threat posed by the outbreak to justify a series of extraordinary measures taken by the Trump administration, like shutting down processing of many asylum claims.

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Even as they seek to second-guess aspects of state and local policies, DOJ lawyers have taken care not to dispute that there is a severe threat to public health.Romero said the Trump administration’s efforts reek of hypocrisy and politics. “On the one hand, they want to say churches should be open for prayer. On other hand, they allow lawful abortion clinics to be shut down. The hypocrisy in choosing what states’ rights they will challenge which ones to acquiesce to is completely rooted in their own partisan agenda,” the ACLU executive director said.

Another challenge for the feds is that many states and local governments traditionally have more legal latitude to issue orders and regulations that affect religion than the federal government does.The Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed by Congress in 1993 gave churches and individuals the right to sue over even widely applicable laws that interfere with religion. However, in 1997, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional to apply the new federal law to states or municipalities. Some states have passed their own RFRA laws, but they don’t all go as far as the federal one.

Yet another hurdle is that the Justice Department typically conducts some investigation before filing a suit. Lawyers for religious-rights advocacy groups, on the other hand, can and have taken accounts from pastors and rushed to court for a restraining order within a matter of days or hours.

Organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, Liberty Counsel and the Thomas More Society, have embraced such cases with gusto, filing a slew of challenges across the country.Laser said most of the efforts to win temporary restraining orders against the lockdowns have fizzled, but at least two federal appeals courts—the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit and the Cincinnati-based 6th Circuit—have stepped in to allow churches to proceed with their services.

Not all judges are convinced the legal challenges are even the business of federal courts or the Justice Department. The trial-court judge handling the Justice Department-backed suit a Virginia church brought against Northam said in an order Thursday that she believes the dispute belongs in state court, where the pastor can raise a First Amendment defense to the criminal citation he received.

Read more: POLITICO »

No Weak. During my presidency I got anything and everything done that I wanted/needed to get done. If you didn’t like it no one knew because you either “disappeared” or knew to stay quiet Nope🤡🤡🤡 He should be able to. Remember when Trump said he was going to order states to begin opening? The states all said he didn’t have the authority. Trump didn’t order the states to open. States suddenly started to put together opening plans and started to institute them. Same will happen with this.

Why doesn’t he go to church on a regular basis? Boy is he conning the evangelists Three Co branches for a reason... justices, congress and the president. He does not acknowledge the foundation the forefathers established in the Constitution as he wishes to usurp this to one of autocracy and dictatorship

No. Uh, separation of church and state. He doesn’t care if churches “re-open” - it’s just a nod to fundamentalists. It’ll be interesting to see where he goes to church tomorrow. American medical system need many changes. When N95 masks made in America can stock in Walmart or Lowe's ? He is not ordering churches to open. He is saying states cannot force them to remain closed as long as they follow CDC guidelines.

I will 'splain to you again. First study the issue and find out what 'essential' means. When state shutdowns occur essential businesses are allowed to state open. Got that? Hard? So potus say they just as essential and should be treated equally. Otherwise it's discrimination. Wisdom is the ability to see things from God's point of view, not Trump's point of view. Perhaps Christians need to adjust their viewpoint.

No. He cannot order Churches to open . Now Trump is trying to kill off the Christians. Wow. We need Joe Biden to be President. He can sure hold back federal funding if they states don’t comply. He wants to be a dictator. He behaves like a dictator. Just instead of having people who correct him or point out the truth killed, he has them fired or calls them fake news.

Amazing how a godless man attempts to tell us when we can attend church. Go play golf Donald! Let him play golf. At least he can’t do Harm to more than a stupid ball. It's up to the churches if they want to take that risk. The virus is waiting for some additional victims. He can’t have it both ways. If they reopen, and church members get sick and die, he will blame the governor or mayor.

No. Not legal. Will he be in church this weekend? Why doesn’t Trump just go to his church and not wear a mask to show us all how it’s done? Great photo op, Trump in “his” church. don't forget the next article about WHY he is doing this It's not about power or authority. He doesn't care about that. It's about stirring up that triggered part of his base and watching what happens.

You can pray anytime, anywhere, so what’s the problem. Do you have to go to church to pray? I never seen that verse anywhere in the Bible He has the CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY to do so. I will follow people that likes my comment back Carnegie Mellon 1 of my Favs, study saying 50% of all Covid19 Info on social media is wrong w/some by BOTS Why doesn't every college study/ Fox & Trump for Bad Info..bet its a lot more than 50%..I am sorry but GOP must stop fueling its idiots w/bad info..Americans are dying !!

The federal government has many levers to get people to do what they want. Some more distasteful than others. But this is definitely a fight I have been wanting to see at least from a theoretical perspective to determine the boundaries of federalism. Well it would be a violation of the first amendment and governors can be sued. The bill of rights is guidelines for government not the people.

Punkd by God The Governors who are keeping Houses of Faith closed DON'T have the Constitutional right to close or keep them closed! The people in those states need to fight back sue those government leaders! breaking: IMPOTENT man cosplays as powerful man Actualy the constitution does that so yeah he can do it

Ford asked Trump to wear mask during visit, Pres. Trump removed mask while in publicFord asked Pres. Trump to wear a mask while touring production plant Shaq Brewster says, “They [Ford] said, ‘Bill Ford encouraged Pres. Trump to wear a mask when he arrived. He wore a mask during a private viewing of three Ford GTs … the president later removed the mask.'” shaqbrewster The mask was tied to a Ukrainian national with whom Trump had a phone conversation mentioned in the dossier that implicated Russian collusion that ...... Wait, what? He just didn't wear a mask, after he already tested negative the same day? You're running out of good stories here shaqbrewster Glad he wore a mask 😷 2 protect the 🚗 shaqbrewster Ford should be selling lots of those GTs Trump looked at. To all Trump's rich buddies who grabbed the Trillions in PPP money. Everyone else will be riding a Bike.

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Trump to order US flags lowered to honor coronavirus victims as death toll approaches 100,000President Donald Trump said Thursday he will order U.S. flags to be lowered over federal buildings to honor those who have died from the coronavirus. Trump is in the manufacturing of untruth business. He’ll come up with anything that serves his interest. Question is what are GOP operatives going to do about it? Trump alone can’t execute his deceptions alone. Go after GOP accessories to Trump. Trump is a lost cause. He didnt order that. No way.

Trump deems places of worship ‘essential,’ claims he can order their reopeningNEW: President Trump declares his view that houses of worship should now be “essential,” and calls on governors to open them “right now.” Did he stomp his foot like the little brat that he is when he said “right now?” 🙄 His views are shit though so there’s that. Trump: I cannot enforce a national lockdown because I don’t have the power to do so. That’s up to the governors. Also Trump: I have the power to lift states’ lockdowns. What

Mosques in U.S. to remain closed despite order by Trump who 'launched the Muslim ban'The Council on American–Islamic Relations has advised mosques to remain shuttered despite instructions by president for places of worship to reopen. There was never a 'Muslim ban' during Trump's presidency. He did not 'launch a Muslim ban'. This is a false statement. If it had been a Muslim ban, it sure was a poor attempt. Just Fake News from the Liberal Media and their fellow democrats.