Civil rights proponents say Gov. Gavin Newsom has once again trampled on religious freedom as he bans gatherings, not only in houses of worship but also prayer groups and bible studies in private homes. His mandate is part of new coronavirus restrictions. Now, three Northern California churches are suing the governor, seeking to overturn his ban on singing during religious services.
The suit, filed on behalf of Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville, seeks to block Newsom’s July 1 ban on singing in houses of worship to stop the spread of coronavirus because of an alleged double standard.
“Places of worship must, therefore, discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” new guidelines read as state health officials recommend churches have members sing online from their homes.
The suit, filed by attorneys who have previously led lawsuits against Newsom’s ban on in-person services, said the Democratic governor banned singing and chanting inside churches but not anywhere else. They also noted that the governor “has been unwavering in his support of massive protests” against police brutality.
“On or about July 2, 2020, following implementation of the Worship Ban, when asked to explain whether people should heed Newsom’s mandate and avoid large crowds and gatherings, Newsom refused to place the same restrictions on protesters and explained ‘we have a Constitution, we have a right to free speech,’ and further stated that ‘we are all dealing with a moment in our nation‘s history that is profound and pronounced … Do what you think is best,’” the lawsuit stated.
The suit cites scripture to emphasize the importance of singing during worship– “singing and praying aloud as a body of Christ is an integral part of worship for believers and plaintiffs.”
“Let me be clear, the state does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God,” Robert Tyler, one of the lawyers filing the suit, said in a statement, according to the Sacramento Bee.
California faced a number of lawsuits alleging first amendment infringement after it mandated that houses of worship must close during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting the governor to allow them to reopen at a limited capacity on May 25.
After facing another spike in COVID-19 cases, Newsom announced this week that all bars across the state must close and that restaurants, wineries, tasting rooms, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and card rooms must suspend indoor activities. While covid cases are increasing, across the nation the death rate has plummeted as more people are tested.
Some houses of worship had to shut down again, too. The governor announced that all gyms, places of worship, malls, personal care services, barbershops, salons, and non-critical offices in counties on the state’s “monitoring list” had to shut down under the new order. The order affects more than 30 counties which are home to about 80 percent of California’s population.