On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom was sued by three Northern California churches over a July 1st order to stop all ‘singing and chanting activities’ in houses of worship.
Three churches sue Governor Newsom
The lawsuit, filed by Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville, is asking for an injunction to be put in place against the California Department of Public Health against the singing and chanting order. Other guidelines in Newsom’s order, such as limiting service attendance to 25% capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, have not yet been challenged.
While the orders recommend singing remotely at home, the suit noted that singing violated freedom of speech through the First Amendment.
“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,'” explained the lawsuit.
The churches also raised the point that while large groups of people have been allowed to gather in the recent George Floyd protests, the Governor specifically banned singing in houses of worship and no other place.
“We’ve been doing it outside and under tents, but that has posed a lot of problems,” said Sadie Wilson, a choir leader at a church in Humboldt County, in an interview with the Globe. “Older members aren’t great in heat, there are bugs, and it tires everyone out much quicker.
“We need to be indoors for this, but besides practice, we can’t really do it on Sundays, even though it’s pretty integral to our religion.
“We need to be indoors, but we just can’t do that right now.”
Robert Taylor, one of the lawyers for the churches, said in a statement that the “state does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God.”
California leaders and health experts tout COVID-19 spread and health concerns in defense of order
Health experts contend that singing, especially without masks, is dangerous and can greatly increase COVID-19 transmission. Respiratory droplets from those infected are greatly increased with singing, with close quarter singing of choirs leading making the chances of transmission much higher.
While the Governor’s office has not yet released a statement in reply to the lawsuit being filed, medical experts have defended the Governor’s decision.
“This is only temporary,” explained Norah Regis, a nurse who works at a retirement home whose duties include accompanying some groups to their local churches on Saturdays and Sundays, to the Globe. “It’s not an attack on religion. It’s just a way to keep people safe and to lessen the risk of vulnerable people, such as the elderly and those more likely to get it, such as my residents I look after.”
“The synagogues and Catholic and Lutheran churches I’ve gone with my patients to always socially distance and even have special sections away from the rest of the crowd. In a Catholic church I take them to they even get a special repurposed crying room to attend mass at.”
“But the danger is there, and we’ve had special after-work classes on how to keep them distanced properly. When dealing with people without masks, it’s always keep them as far away as possible.”
“If singing is allowed, I have no idea where I’ll be taking some of my residents, I have my duty not to get them sick, especially with COVID.”
“You know what one of my residents said to me? A 90-plus-year-old woman who worked during WWII? She said wearing a mask is like everyone doing their bit during the war. And if the number of people not doing their duty in working together and not wearing a mask equaled the number of people not willing to fight or work in factories back then we may have taken years more to win the war.”
“That kinda stuck with me.”
Seen as an extension of the general lockdown in California, the ban on singing in churches is expected to continue for at least several months should the lawsuit not reverse Governor Newsom’s order.
The lawsuit is expected to be heard soon in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.
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