Crossroads Community Church senior pastor Jim Clark wants to bring his 1,500 church members to safety during the coronavirus pandemic, but draws the line on a brand new California ban on singing or singing at church services.
"I said enough is enough," Clark said. "We will sing and praise the Lord. … We don't sing, but if we sing we would sing too. "
The California ban was one of several indoor organization and gathering restrictions recently introduced by Governor Gavin Newsom amid rapidly growing virus cases and hospitalizations. It is unclear whether there is a similar singing ban in the United States, although there is one in England.
The virus is more easily transmitted indoors, and tiny droplets are released when singing, which can transmit the disease. The ban can be heard in court because of differing opinions about its legality. Some groups argue that it violates religious freedom, while others believe that it is constitutional, especially in the context of a pandemic.
The American Center for Law and Justice, a religious freedom law firm with ties to President Donald Trump, says it will sue.
"We cannot see California deprive its believers of God's right to cast their voices in worship and praise," said Managing Director Jordan Sekulow on the center's website. The center, which was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, did not say how quickly it would sue.
Sekulow was part of Trump's defense team, and his father, Jay Sekulow, the center's top legal adviser, was one of Trump's leading lawyers during the impeachment process.
Another conservative right-wing group, the Pacific Justice Institute, said in a letter to the faith leaders that Newsom's guidelines are advisory because they do not say it is an order, do not quote legal authority, have not been signed by any official, and no mention contains penalties.
The institute's president, Brad Dacus, said after the letter that the lawyers there had answered dozens of subsequent calls from relieved religious leaders who were allowed to sing last Sunday and continue to do so.
"These churches are just happy to know that if they sing worship songs on Sunday morning, they will not be prosecuted," said Dacus, whose institute has filed pandemic inequality lawsuits against Oregon and Washington officials.
However, Ali Bay, a spokeswoman for the State Rescue Service, said that instructions from the State Department of Public Health and the Department of Health and Safety at Work should be followed.
It "has the same authority as any other CDPH policy, policy or order that the governor has instructed residents to observe," she said.
Newsom was previously criticized for not allowing religious organizations to resume offering insider services faster. He gave in last month, but imposed many restrictions, including limiting the number to 100 people. He added the singing order to the state's 14-page guidance, which is why "activities like singing and singing negate the risk reduction achieved by six feet of physical distance".
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, said the ban was legally enforceable.
"The Supreme Court, like the lower courts, has made it clear that restrictions on assemblies, including religious ones, are constitutional," he said in an email. “I think this limitation is certainly constitutional, especially as the cases of COVID-19 are increasing. As with other companies, this can be enforced. "
The California Catholic Conference said it would comply.
"You could have a respectful service, a quiet one – in fact, many people are looking for it anyway," said Steve Pehanich, spokesman for the Catholic conference. He said that some choir members are participating from a distance or are simply taking other steps to make music safe.
"The churches are only trying to ensure people's safety and are working to comply with these guidelines," said Pehanich.
But others like Clark said they would violate the ban.
He has spent less than 30 years expanding his Yuba City church north of Sacramento and said he intends to protect his herd through social distancing and other security measures. He has masks with gloves and hand disinfectants available, but these are not needed.
Clark will not cancel the indoor service or stop singing the 500 or so people attending one of three weekly services.
Clark said there was no effort to act against him without criticizing that he was violating Newsom's restrictions. On the contrary, the feedback is positive.
"Most of them were calls:" Thank you for doing what you believe in, "he said.
In May, health officials accused a fatal outbreak north of Seattle of a choral practice in which a singer accidentally infected 52 others, two of whom died.
In response, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention later released reopening tips for religious companies that prevented choir meetings but removed the guidelines hours later because they had not been approved by the White House.
Around 200 state inspectors joined forces on the long weekend of Independence Day to screen organizations for violations of new state health regulations. However, Greg Burt, spokesman for the conservative California Family Council, said he hadn't heard of any effort to enforce the singing ban during the first weekend.
"As soon as they try to enforce this, national news will be released," he said.
"This seems a little more extreme than telling them they can't meet because you're telling them how to worship," said Burt. "It seems to be a little more than the government directly violating the first change."
Harmeet Dhillon, a legal advisor and official from the Republican Party who unsuccessfully sued Newsom for several health regulations during the pandemic, said she was considering a singing lawsuit.
Dhillon and other critics, including Advocates for Faith & Freedom and the National Center for Law and Policy, said that church restrictions are inequalities compared to recent protesters who protested police violence after George Floyd's death in Minneapolis.
"If you are allowed to sing" Hey hey, ho ho, racism has to go, "but you cannot sing the liturgy, it is obviously discriminatory," she said.