PASO ROBLES, Calif. — A district attorney in California recently declared his county a “sanctuary for worship and praise in church.”
A video posted to YouTube shows San Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow speaking at an Independence Day gathering in Paso Robles, where he spoke about his concerns regarding the state ban on singing during indoor church services due to possible transmission of the coronavirus.
“I’m proud that each one of us has our right to worship in the way that we want to,” he stated. “Our state over the last few years has been letting out people out of prisons early, back into our communities — and especially right now — but yet our governor wants to make it a crime to worship and praise God in church by singing to our almighty God.”
“And that to me is an example of where right has become wrong and wrong has become right,” Dow said.
To cheers, he then declared San Obispo a “sanctuary city” to praise God in church.
“I’ll tell you right now for the first time with a microphone: By the power vested in me as District Attorney of San Luis Obispo County, I declare San Luis Obispo County a sanctuary county for worship and praise in church,” Dow proclaimed.
“When we’re releasing the real criminals into our community but we’re trying to criminalize those that are dedicated to exercising their First Amendment rights, we’ve gone wrong, and I won’t allow that to happen in San Luis Obispo County while I’m the district attorney.”
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.
“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.
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.
Three churches in the state have filed suit to challenge the prohibition, contending that “[t]he 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.”
Dow also released a video on July 31, explaining that he still stands behinds his words declaring San Obispo a sanctuary city where Christians can freely sing in church.
“I am firmly committed to the principle that it would be a severe injustice for my office to charge a person with a crime who has simply chosen to practice their faith by singing in church,” he said. “Today in 2020, more than ever, we need more people attending their houses of worship and seeking help from the Almighty for an answer to the coronavirus.”
Dow was soon criticized by the San Obispo Tribune editorial board, which wrote in an op-ed that his statements were a “terrible message to send at a time when coronavirus cases are soaring; it legitimizes the idea that some public health rules are questionable and gives the public tacit permission to break the law.”
Some reports state that violations of the DOH guidelines did not carry criminal penalties.
California currently prohibits indoor church services altogether in a number of counties.