As California Gov. Gavin Newsom once again bars houses of worship in much of the state from conducting indoor religious services, some Christian leaders are critical of the governor’s decision.
The order restricting indoor worship services applies to any county on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. On Monday, Newsom said that encompasses 80 percent of Californians.
Jonathan Keller, president of the conservative California Family Council, said Newsom’s order shows that the governor “trusts big box stores like Costco and Target more than churches and synagogues.”
“Coupled with last week’s ban on singing during worship services, people of faith are increasingly alarmed by Sacramento’s disregard of their constitutional rights. We have to ask ourselves: where do we draw the line?” Keller said in a statement.
In Lodi, Pastor Jon Duncan of the Cross Culture Christian Center, which had defied Newsom’s previous order and continued to hold indoor services, said the latest order conflicts with the First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and practice religion.
“We believe it’s God-given, as did the (Founding Fathers),” Duncan said.
Duncan said that church provides a necessary outlet for people who are feeling hopeless or depressed.
“People do need church. I think church is an essential service. I think it’s a necessary service,” he said.
Echoing that sentiment was Senate Republican Leader Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, who urged Newsom in a letter not to close down houses of worship.
“We must continue to work to protect public safety and health. Effective and data-driven guidelines should be implemented, but a restriction on our First Amendment rights in the form of the government closing down houses of worship cannot be tolerated,” Grove said in the letter.
Dean Broyles, chief counsel and president of the National Center for Law and Policy, which represents Duncan’s church, said in a statement that Newsom’s authority “stops at the church house door.”
“We strongly encourage pastors and religious leaders to follow the teachings of holy scripture and the guidance of their conscience regarding whether and how they worship God, rather than the arbitrary edicts of the state,” Broyles said in a statement.
Broyles is also representing Pastor Jim Franklin of Fresno’s Cornerstone Community Church, who said in a statement that while it is important to keep the community safe, he does not believe that the public interest outweighs his church’s “profound need to meet safely.”
“We will not abandon our constitutional rights. The decision is ours, not the governor’s,” he said
Other churches, including those in the Diocese of Sacramento, responded to Newsom’s order by adjusting their services accordingly.
“There is no substitute for in-person interaction, so there is natural disappointment. However, we will continue to follow all guidelines as the health and safety of our congregation and staff is a top priority,” said Mark Miller, a spokesman for Bayside Church.
Bishop Jaime Soto, of the Diocese of Sacramento, said in a letter to congregants that parishes in counties affected by the order would conduct mass outdoors where feasible, but when high temperatures make that prohibitive, they would livestream services.
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