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California Churches Sue Governor Over Ban on Singing During Religious Services

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By Jorge Casuso

July 16, 2020 -- Three California churches sued Governor Gavin Newsom on Thursday for banning singing and chanting in places of worship during the coronavirus emergency but allowing it in other venues.

The lawsuit -- filed in federal district court by the American Center for Law and Justice on behalf Calvary Chapel Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville -- asked the court to stop enforcement of the Governor's July 6 order in their counties and the state.

That day, Los Angeles County health officials updated the houses of worship protocol to align with the governor's directive.

“Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power,” said ACLJ Executive Director Jordan Sekulow in announcing the suit. “And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable.”

The suit notes that Newsom has expressed support for massive demonstrations that have included chanting and singing and violated the state health directives.

The complaint states that following implementation of the Worship Ban, "Newsom refused to place the same restrictions on protesters and explained ‘we have a Constitution, we have a right to free speech.”

The plaintiffs argue Newsom's guidance “specifically and discriminatorily targets places of worship” and violates their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

The directive forces them to choose between following the State mandate or following their “sincerely held religious beliefs,” according to the suit.

The lawsuit cites verses from the Book of Psalms and the New Testament Book of Ephesians, which speaks of “psalms, hymns and spiritual songs" as part of Christian worship.

“Singing and praying aloud as a body of Christ is an integral part of worship for believers,” the suit says. “To prohibit group singing and chanting is to effectively prohibit corporate Christian worship.”

Newsom's directive bans “in particular, activities such as singing and chanting (that) negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.

“Places of worship must therefore discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25 percent of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” the directive said.

It asked places of worship to "consider practicing these activities through alternative methods (such as internet streaming) that ensure individual congregation members perform these activities separately in their own homes."

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