Governor Newsom announced guidance prohibiting congregants from singing or chanting out loud on July 1st. This was followed by Newsom’s latest order on July 13th that prohibits indoor gathering at houses of worship.
While the initial ban did not expressly prohibit people from attending church, it did ask them to refrain from singing or chanting even while wearing the proper masks and being socially distanced.
One local church has taken a creative approach to this initial guideline. Living Oaks Community Church in Thousand Oaks has stated that although the church will continue to provide live worship music and singing, they encourage their congregants to “hum, reflect, or sing in your heart during worship.”
A Living Oaks staff member, went further to explain that there are alternate ways to “find a safe and meaningful posture of worship…We want to do everything in our power to love and protect our neighbor, our church, and our community from potential harm.” This congregation for the month of July will be hosting “Church in the Park,” online streaming services, and “Patio Fellowships.”
Pastor Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference based in Sacramento, stated in an interview with CBN Newswatch on July 7 that he feels Governor Newsom’s order against singing and chanting in churches is arbitrary and discriminatory. As a participant of recent peaceful protests himself, he sees the contrast between permitting thousands to gather and chant in protest as being in direct contradiction to forbidding 100 people who are socially distanced from practicing what is widely considered a fundamental tenet of religion—participating in vocal congregational worship.
When asked if he would be willing to be arrested for his view on the prohibition of vocal congregational worship, Rodriguez replied, “I’m going to continue to praise the Lord. I’m going to continue to have my team wear masks, encourage my people to wear masks as they come in … but I’m not going to stop worshiping.”
On July 13th, the second round of closures for places of worship was announced. The list of restricted businesses includes churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and religious gathering places. The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) only makes allowances for socially distanced outdoor gatherings.
Calling this new round of closures a “dimmer switch and not a simple ‘on/off,’” Newsom states that there is again a need to shut down many businesses and churches that opened as recently as June 19. According to his July 13 press release, these new closures are a result of increased positivity rates in rural parts of the state that were previously less affected, specifically in Butte, Lake, and Placer counties. Newsom continues to say: “The reason we are moving forward today with additional dimmer in terms of our opening … is we’re starting to see in some rural parts of the state, an increase in ICU use that is generating some concern. … That data then bears consequence, the consequence being … the decision to utilize that dimmer switch.”
Some local churches are pushing back at the state’s policies which restrict the free exercise of religion. There was a peaceful rally in Newbury Park on Sunday, July 19, to highlight the need for religious institutions to protect their First Amendment right to practice their religion without interference from the State.
On one corner, Harvey Cole with others carried signs that quoted James Madison, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power,” and signs quoting the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble.”
Mr. Cole said he came out today because he believes fundamental freedoms are at risk of being lost. Cole stated, “We’re protesting the trampling of our rights to assemble peaceably. We don’t feel it right that liquor stores are essential when churches are not.”
On the opposite corner, others feel differently. “We’re here to see if the church is following the government’s orders,” said Andrew Gzo as he held a sign that read “Your call. Don’t kill Grandma. Wear a mask. It’s not about you.”
Another protestor explained, “ The rest of us are being so cautious, but what makes them better than everyone else.”