PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Gov. Gina Raimondo on Friday dismissed a demand by President Trump that she and other governors reopen places of worship this weekend, saying she doesn’t think he has the authority to overrule her plan.
Raimondo earlier this week announced places of worship, including churches, synagogues and mosques, could start reopening for in-person services at 25% capacity beginning May 30. (Virtual and drive-through services have been allowed throughout the crisis.)
However, during a White House press briefing Friday, Trump called on all governors to allow places of worship to resume this coming weekend, saying they faith organizations are now deemed essential, and that he would override any governor that does not comply.
“Today, I’m identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services,” Trump said.
Trump’s comments came as Raimondo was in the middle of her own daily briefing. Asked about it by WPRI 12, Raimondo shrugged off the prospect of changing her reopening schedule in Rhode Island.
“We’re going to stick with what we have,” Raimondo said, adding that many faith institutions wouldn’t be able to reopen safely on such short notice anyway.
“That would be reckless,” Raimondo said. “It’s Friday — they’re not ready.”
At the White House, Trump stressed the importance of churches to communities and took issue with some of the businesses that had been allowed to reopen even as religious institutions have not.
“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”
Raimondo said she was comfortable with her timeline, adding that it was made in conjunction with various religious leaders. Her office was not given any advanced warning of the president’s decision, she added, but said the lack of communication comes as no surprise.
The governor also pointed out that Trump had previously indicated reopening plans would be left to the governors.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been been in law school, but I don’t know of any executive fiat that he would have to overrule a particular governor,” Raimondo said.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence on Wednesday issued a press release announcing it would resume public Masses beginning May 30.
“Our priority is to do all that we reasonably can to protect the health of our people, priests, and liturgical ministers while also providing the salvific grace of the Holy Mass and the sacraments which, for believers, is indeed an essential service, allowing us to share in the life of Christ and opening for us the doors of eternal life,” Bishop Thomas Tobin said in a statement at the time.
Diocesan leaders reiterated that plan on Friday, saying: “We have a comprehensive plan already in place for the return to public worship & our plans have not changed. Public worship will resume on the weekend of May 30/31. Some of our parishes may need this additional time to prepare their churches under the newly released guidelines.”
However, Tobin offered some additional thoughts on Twitter.
“Politics aside, referring to churches as ‘essential’ is a breakthrough,” he tweeted. “It’s important that the value of religious faith is being recognized. Faith in God, of every denomination, is always essential, for individuals and for society.”
Ted Nesi (firstname.lastname@example.org) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook
With material from the Associated Press.