Three northern California churches filed a lawsuit against Gov. Gavin Newsom and other public health officials for passing a policy forbidding singing and chanting in houses of worship during the coronavirus pandemic.
Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg, and River of Life Church in Oroville, Calif. allege that Newsom’s recent executive order violates the churches’ constitutional right to worship freely without obstruction.
Newsom’s order, passed on July 1, states, “Places of worship must therefore discontinue singing and chanting activities,” citing coronavirus-related concerns.
The governor’s order unfairly targets churches and other places of worship, the lawsuit states, since it does not mention the mass protests over the George Floyd that took place with chanting and shouting.
“Despite the ongoing and even increasing restrictions on the protected First Amendment rights to freely assemble and engage in religious exercise as it relates to places of worship, Newsom has been unwavering in his support of massive protests in California,” the lawsuit reads.
Singing and praying aloud “is an integral part of worship for believers,” the churches argue, pointing out that Scripture instructs followers to sing.
“Singing in church is a biblical mandate,” said Kevin Green, pastor of Calvary Chapel in Fort Bragg.
Restricting that right is an “unconstitutional abuse of power,” said Jordan Sekulow, executive director of the American Center for Law & Justice.
“And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable,” Sekulow said in a statement. “This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.”
Newsom’s office has not commented on the lawsuit, but he did recently implement several restrictions as coronavirus cases in the state increase.
The churches pointed out, however, that the three counties in which they are located have not been placed on the governor’s COVID-19 watchlist, which means they are exempt from the extended restrictions.
That Newsom hasn’t taken this into consideration proves he is “unfairly” and “aggressively” targeting houses of worship, ACLJ said in a press release.