In a lawsuit filed on July 15, three California churches challenged the state’s ban on “indoor singing and chanting activities.” The suit calls this a “Worship Ban” and alleges that Governor Gavin Newsom and three public health officials have violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.
Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg and River of Life Church, in Oroville, allege that the state has singled out “singing and chanting” only in churches – and not in secular gatherings or venues like protests, day camps, childcare centers, schools, restaurants or casinos. They argue that the ban “specifically and discriminatorily targets places of worship” and impinges “on their fundamental rights to freedom of religion and speech.”
The lawsuit was filed oh behalf of the churches by Tyler and Bursch, LLP, a Southern California legal firm, and by three religious freedom legal non-profits; the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), The National Center for Law and Policy, and Advocates for Faith & Freedom.
In contrast to the church restrictions, the suit notes that Governor Newsom has been “unwavering in his support of massive protests in California,” citing speeches, written statements and tweets. On June 1, for example, Newsom said, ““For those of you out there protesting, I want you to know that you matter. To those who want to express themselves… God bless you. Keep doing it. Your rage is real.”
Around the same time the “Worship Ban” was implemented, Newsom was asked whether people should “avoid large crowds and gatherings.” The complaint says: “Newsom refused to place the same restrictions on protestors 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…’”
A Tyler and Bursch press release quotes Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of ACLJ. He said, “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.”
“Singing and praying aloud as a body of Christ is an integral part of worship for believers and Plaintiffs,” the lawsuit says. It continues by citing Scripture which commands praise and worship, such as Ephesians 5:18-20: “…be filled with the Holy Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything.”
“To prohibit group singing and chanting is to effectively prohibit corporate Christian worship,” the suit argues.
In the press release, Attorney Robert Tyler stated, “Let me be clear, the State does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God.”
Since the singing and chanting ban was implemented, California has increased restrictions again on churches. Liberty Counsel, another religious freedom legal firm, reports that on July 13 the state banned all indoor services in 30 counties with heavy coronavirus infection increases – including in-home Bible studies and meetings. Singing and chanting is banned in those meetings, as well.
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