President Donald Trump announced at the White House on Friday that he would designate churches and other houses of worship as essential services. He said, “I call upon governors to allow our churches and places of worship to open right now. If there’s any question, they’re going to have to call me, but they’re not going to be successful in that call.”
Trump added that he would “override” governors who don’t open up their houses of worship for in-person services, though he likely does not have the authority to do so. States and their governors have largely led the coronovirus response on the ground through stay-at-home orders and mandatory closures of nonessential businesses. States enjoy protections under the 10th Amendment, which gives them exclusive authority over powers not given to the federal government by the Constitution.
States possess what is called “police power” to open, close, quarantine and regulate. The federal government has certain powers, that are strictly delimited, and does not include the ability to reach down into states (that’s what federalism is about) and override local decisions. Governors, are free to tell churches they should not meet, or to impose penalties for defying those orders.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany was asked several times by different reporters what authority the president has to “override the governors” to reopen churches and she avoided directly answering the question.
Finally, she admitted “that’s up to the governors.”