By Jeff Mason
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump on Friday urged U.S. states to allow the reopening this weekend of places of worship that have been closed due to the coronavirus, and warned he would override governors who do not do so.
At a short appearance in the White House briefing room, Trump said he was declaring that places of worship - churches, synagogues and mosques - are providing essential services and thus should be opened as soon as possible.
Places of worship have been closed as part of stay-at-home orders most states have used to try to control the spread of the coronavirus. With the infection rate declining in many areas, there is pressure to begin reopening.
Trump issued a warning to state governors who refuse his appeal but did not say under what authority he would act to force the reopening of religious facilities.
"If they don't do it, I will override the governors. In America, we need more prayer, not less," he said.
The National Governors Association declined to comment. Trump has gone back and forth throughout the pandemic on whether he or the governors have more power to implement measures related to its spread.
"He has no authority to do this. The governors are in no sense subordinates of the president," said Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
Trump courted the support of religious groups, particularly evangelical Christians, in his 2016 presidential race, and is eager to have it again in 2020.
Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, encouraged worshipers who are especially vulnerable to the virus not to go or to wait longer to attend services.
New guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourage worshipers to bow or wave instead of shaking hands, hugging or kissing.
(Additaionl reporting by Steve Holland and Makini Brice; editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)