Three churches located in northern California are suing Governor Gavin Newsom over his ban on singing during worship services amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to the lawsuit, the governor’s order violates the churches’ constitutional rights.
A number of advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday on behalf of three separate churches. Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg, and River of Life Church in Oroville are all seeking to block Gov. Newsom’s July 1 order.
“Places of worship must… discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees,” the order reads.
The churches allege that the mandate violates their constitutional rights. The lawsuit also claims the order unfairly targets places of worship. As protesters march and chant along the streets, the government instructs parishioners to refrain from singing.
“Despite the ongoing and even increasing restrictions on the protected First Amendment rights to freely assemble and engage in religious exercise as it relates to places of worship, Newsom has been unwavering in his support of massive protests in California,” the lawsuit reads.
The lawsuit quotes Scripture to highlight the importance of singing and chanting in church. “Singing and praying aloud as a body of Christ is an integral part of worship for believers and plaintiffs.”
American Center for Law & Justice Executive Director Jordan Sekulow criticized the governor’s order. In fact, he called it an “unconstitutional abuse of power.”
“And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable,” he said in a statement. “This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.”
Robert Tyler, another lawyer representing the churches, said the government doesn’t have the authority to enforce such a mandate. “Let me be clear, the state does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God.”
The CDC has previously emphasized the risk of singing during worship services. The health organization says singing poses a threat of spreading the virus. Singing can spew particles into the air similar to sneezing and coughing.
Chanting during protests with thousands in attendance, however, has not garnered the same level of suspicion. In fact, a University of Denver professor claimed that Black Lives Matter protests have actually slowed the spread of coronavirus.
“We think that what’s going on is it’s the people who are not going to protest are staying away,” said Andrew Friedson. “The overall effect for the entire city is more social distancing because people are avoiding the protests.”