Church Groups Sue California Over Ban on Singing During Services

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference at the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, Calif., May 22. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool, File)

(CN) — Singing during indoor church services during the coronavirus pandemic is prohibited in California, but a group of church leaders filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday saying that health rule violates their constitutional rights.

The northern California churches claim Governor Gavin Newsom’s latest health order infringes on their right to worship freely. The church groups are based in Mendocino and Butte counties, two counties that have not been placed on the statewide monitoring list because their positivity rate has not grown rapidly.

At the end of June, California saw its daily confirmed Covid-19 cases dramatically jump and by July 7, the daily total shot up to nearly 11,700 cases in one day.

On July 1, state health officials restricted singing and chanting during indoor church services.

By July 13, Newsom announced a statewide health order to restrict indoor restaurants, hair salons, gyms and church gatherings. Around the same time, the United States passed 3.4 million total infections since the onset of the pandemic earlier this spring.

United Nation health experts suspect the virus is airborne and singing in an indoor environment could help spread the virus.

The evangelical Christian churches who filed the lawsuit include the Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, the Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and the River of Life Church in Oroville.

In their complaint, filed in the Eastern District of California, the church leaders say that they are being singled out with a prohibition on singing while other groups are allowed to protest in large gatherings.

The churches claim they are “committed to the teachings of the Bible” and they hold weekly worship services that include “singing, prayer, recitation of scripture, and a sermon preached by the pastor.”

They claim their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion, freedom of speech and other rights are violated by what they call the state’s “worship ban.”

The church leaders name Newsom, California Public Health Officer Sonia Angell and the health officers in Mendocino and Butte counties as defendants.

California issued guidelines for churches to reopen in late May while the official confirmed infection count was nearly 95,000. As of Wednesday, when the church leaders filed their complaint, California reported 350,000 cases with over 7,200 deaths.

The church groups are represented by Robert Tyler with Tyler & Bursch, as well as the American Center for Law & Justice.

Previously, Tyler represented a coalition of Southern California church leaders in their fight to force the state of California to reopen churches at the end of May.

Meanwhile, the Department of Justice in a letter to Newsom sent this past May said the state should do more to accommodate churches during the pandemic so their religious freedoms are not violated.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to an email for comment Wednesday evening.

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