In the latest challenge to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions aimed at curbing the threat of coronavirus, three Northern California churches sued Wednesday seeking to overturn his ban on singing and chanting inside houses of worship.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Sacramento on behalf of Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville, seeks an injunction against the state health department’s July 1 order that places of worship “must therefore discontinue singing and chanting” as part of the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The suit, filed by Southern California attorneys who have filed other lawsuits challenging Newsom’s previous restrictions on in-person church services, says the governor banned singing and chanting inside churches but not in any other locations, and notes that at the same time he “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 says.
The suit quotes Scripture to emphasize the importance of singing in church, saying that “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.
The governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday night.
Singing is believed to pose a threat of spreading the virus because it can spew particles just as coughing nor sneezing can, and debates have erupted over whether the protests against police brutality posed a similar threat as marchers chanted and shouted in recent weeks.
Numerous lawsuits have been filed over portions of the governor’s stay-at-home order and other restrictions, and judges so far have largely rejected requests for restraining orders or injunctions, saying the state had broad authority in dealing with public health emergencies.
But the Trump administration and U.S. Justice Department have signaled deep concerns over some of the restrictions related to worship, and one of the lawyers filing the suit is Jay Sekulow, one of the president’s personal lawyers.
President Donald Trump declared in May that he wanted churches to reopen “right now” during the governor’s previous ban on in-person worship services.
Newsom announced Monday that he was ordering a temporary closure on bars, indoor dining and other activities — including worship inside churches — in more than 30 counties that have been placed on the state’s watch list because of increasing coronavirus cases.
The churches in the suit are in Butte and Mendocino counties, which are not on that list, and are permitted to conduct in-person services. But, they say, are not allowed to permit singing during the services.
Some churches have indicated they will not follow the governor’s latest orders, and many in the past simply continued holding services in defiance of the bans on in-person worship.
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