Lawsuit Challenges California’s Ban on Singing During Indoor Religious Services

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REDDING, Calif. — A coalition of religious liberties legal organizations have filed suit on behalf of several churches in California that seek to challenge the State’s recent ban on singing or chanting during indoor religious services, which serves to reduce the transmission of COVID via aerosol particles.

The American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ), The National Center for Law and Policy (NCLP) and Advocates for Faith & Freedom are representing Calvary Chapel of Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg and River of Life Church in Oroville, which state that the ban “frustrates” their ability to worship corporately and is not the least restrictive means to accomplish the government’s interest.

On July 6, the California Department of Health (DOH) released guidelines pertaining to “places of worship, providers of religious services and cultural ceremonies.”

The document explained that there have been outbreaks in “a range of workplaces,” which include places of worship, hospitals, food production facilities and warehouses, and that it is imperative that preventative measures be taken to protect workers and the public.

It said that the guidance pertaining to churches seeks to provide a safe environment for workers and congregants alike.

“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased
rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations,” the document stated.

“In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing,” it asserted.

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Therefore, “[p]laces of worship must … discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” the DOH said.

Read the document in full here.

However, a number of churches opposed the ban, with some saying that they would not comply with the directive to discontinue.

“Let me be clear, the State does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God,” attorney Robert Tyler with Advocates for Faith & Freedom wrote in a letter to pastors, according to the Sacramento Bee.

Tyler’s group is among those suing Gov. Gavin Newsom and Public Health Director Sonia Angell, M.D. on behalf of three California churches. The legal challenge notes that the prohibition applies even if congregants wear masks and social distance.

“The worship ban … on its face and as applied prohibits all singing and chanting in places of worship, even if Plaintiffs follow Center for Disease Control and Prevention and state guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing etc., which is a violation of Plaintiffs’ right to the free exercise of religion,” the lawsuit states.

“The worship ban is not ‘narrowly tailored’ to further any compelling governmental interest,” it contends. “Defendants allow singing and chanting at every secular location. Since singing and chanting are allowed at other secular gatherings, for example, public protests, Defendants must therefore permit Plaintiffs to engage in equivalent constitutionally-protected activities.”

The churches seek an injunction, as well as a declaration that the guidance violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Read the legal challenge in full here. 

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