According to new requirements issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) on July 1, churches and other places of worship are prohibited from allowing singing and chanting during in-person worship services. The guidelines stipulate that places of worship must also continue limiting capacity to 25% of building capacity or 100 people.
“Places of worship must discontinue singing and chanting activities,” the order mandates.
California has experienced a recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, though deaths due to the disease in the state have remained stable. On July 4, the state reported 5,410 new cases, but only 18 deaths. The state hadn’t seen such a low death count since the beginning of the pandemic on March 30 when California reported 15 deaths due to COVID-19.
The new guidelines have been handed down ostensibly because singing may counteract the benefits provided by six-foot social distancing.
“Activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing,” the CDPH orders claim.
California pastors are speaking out against the new requirements and allege that the guidelines infringe upon their religious liberty and create a double standard for people of faith.
“For the last several weeks, tens of thousands of people have been gathering outdoors in cities all across California,” Sean Feucht, a worship leader and pastor in Northern California, told Fox News. “They have been screaming and chanting and protesting, and all the while state officials are encouraging them as they do this.”
Evangelical Hispanic leader Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, also spoke out against the requirements on Twitter.
“You cannot permit tens of thousands to march in protest without masks and demand that 100 worshipers refrain from singing,” Rodriguez tweeted on July 3. “That my friend is the very definition of discrimination. @GavinNewsom please stop discriminating! #inalienablerights.”
As Rodriguez points out, since the death of George Floyd, thousands of people have participated in mass gatherings and protests to advocate for change. In one video posted by ABC7 News Bay Area, protesters can be seen walking through the streets of California chanting, “Black lives matter!”
This leaves many to wonder, why has the First Amendment’s “right of the people peaceably to assemble” been maintained and encouraged during the pandemic while the “free exercise” clause has been ignored?
Why can some people chant loudly in the streets, while others can’t sing or chant in church?
This is not the first time Governor Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., has taken fire for discriminating against religious liberty during the coronavirus pandemic.
In May, the Supreme Court rejected a petition from South Bay United Pentecostal Church which filed a lawsuit against Gov. Newsom’s order limiting church attendance. Though Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in rejecting the church’s request for immediate relief from the order, Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch and Kavanaugh all stated they would have granted the church relief.
In his dissenting statement, Justice Kavanaugh wrote, “California has now limited attendance at religious worship services to 25% of building capacity or 100 attendees, whichever is lower. The basic constitutional problem is that comparable secular businesses are not subject to a 25% occupancy cap, including factories, offices, supermarkets, restaurants, retail stores, pharmacies, shopping malls, pet grooming shops, bookstores, florists, hair salons, and cannabis dispensaries.”
The same problem arises with California’s ban on singing and chanting in church.
It’s possible that California churches will file a new lawsuit seeking protection from CDPH’s guidelines.
You can follow this author on Twitter @MettlerZachary
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