It is unclear whether the president is legally empowered to compel the nation’s governors to take such an action. If the White House moves to enforce his order in defiance of opposition by local officials, Trump could force a constitutional clash over one of the fundamental freedoms enshrined in the First Amendment.
The Justice Department argued in the filing that the city appeared to be targeting religious conduct by singling churches out as the only essential service (as designated by the state of Mississippi) that may not operate despite following all Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state recommendations regarding social distancing.
The training week was part of an ongoing campaign at the department to bolster its work to protect religious freedom, which is regularly described by top leaders as the first right protected by the First Amendment, a department official said in response to a request for comment. . . . But career lawyers said that they feared the department was working to further the use of religious freedom in ways that would push back efforts to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination, according to emails and messages reviewed by The New York Times.
The executive order states that federal agencies in following the
directive shall not infringe upon the First Amendment and its protection
of free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union said it would be monitoring the administration’s action to ensure that’s the case. “If the administration attempts to undermine that freedom using this order, we will see it in court,” said David Cole, the ACLU’s national legal director.