Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) defended deeming churches as “essential” in his stay-at-home order, telling reporters during Thursday’s press conference that the government does not have the authority to close a church and adding that they play an important role, particularly “in times like this.”
DeSantis formally issued a stay-at-home order on Wednesday after days of mounting pressure. The order is designed to “limit their [Floridians’] movements and personal interactions outside of their home to only those necessary to obtain or provide essential services or conduct essential activities.” Essential activities include picking up groceries, going to doctor appointments, and, notably, attending “religious services conducted in churches, synagogues and houses of worship.”
DeSantis defended his decision to consider religious services as essential during Thursday’s press conference and stated that he spoke with churches and synagogues “very early on” and asked that they hold their services in a way “that is going to be conducive to this overall mission.”
One, I don’t think the government has the authority to close a church. I’m certainly not going to do that. At the same time, we got with the churches and synagogues very early and said in times like this, what you guys are doing, I think, is even more important. But we ask that you do it in a way that is going to be conducive to this overall mission. And I would say almost all of them 100 percent agree. Some have gone virtual. Some have had people, but they’ve been spread out far enough.
“I mean you guys are spread out, you know, here in this press conference. There’s no reason why you couldn’t do a church service with people ten feet apart,” DeSantis noted. “So we definitely asked them to absolutely abide by the social distancing guidelines.”
Again, DeSantis stressed the importance of religious services, particularly in times like this:
In times like this, I think the service they’re performing is going to be very important for people, especially when you have difficult circumstances and so do it right. Make sure that you’re following the mission. But I think particularly coming up in the Easter season, I think people are going to want to have access to religious services whether it’s online, whether it’s in a more socially distant type of service. But to have that available I think is very important.
As for the order itself, DeSantis, an ally of President Donald Trump, said the president agreed with his decision.
“I did speak with the president about it,” he said this week. “He agreed with the approach of focusing on the hot spots. But at the same time, he understood that this is another 30-day situation and you gotta just do what makes the most sense.”