Governor Gavin Newsom has further discriminated against churches by banning singing and chanting in houses of worship and limiting in-person services to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, yet for weeks has allowed thousands of people to protest in mass gatherings.
In the recent California Department of Public Health “guidelines” for places of worship and providers of religious services, state health officials recommend churches have members sing online from their homes. The document states: “Places of worship must therefore discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower.”
The “guidelines” also include: “Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations. In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing… Further, it is strongly recommended that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services.”
This document is also filled with inconsistencies, as words such as “must” are used to discourage certain activities such as singing, while other words such as “strongly recommended” the facilitation of remote services and discontinuing the passing of offering plates. By using mandatory language for some religious activities, while discretionary for others, the health department has demoted the importance of certain church activities as opposed to others and is in turn governing the church in the area of worship, which government may not do. In the American tradition, church governance has always been the prerogative of the church. On the other hand, thousands of people are chanting and singing together in protests in California, with no “recommendations” from health officials, while churches are being singled out with unconstitutional restrictions.
Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, who is president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) and a member of the National COVID-19 Recovery Commission, called Newsom’s order “completely discriminatory.” He said, “How can you permit, not for one day, but for many days, tens of thousands to march in protest without wearing masks and then demand that 100 worshipers refrain from singing?” Pastor Rodriguez has church campuses in Sacramento and Los Angeles, and Liberty Counsel represents him, the churches, and NHCLC.
Colossians 3:16 says, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Governor Newsom’s restrictions on religious activity is unconstitutional. The state has no authority to direct the manner and form of worship. It is beyond the competence and the authority of the state to ban singing and chanting in houses of worship. The hypocrisy is most evident when you see the same governor banning signing and chanting in religious services while encouraging the same activity in mass protests.”