Three Northern California churches have filed a federal lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom arguing their First Amendment rights were violated by Newsom’s ban on singing in church.
The lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, notes that the Democratic governor singled out churches while allowing singing in other activities, including protests.
“Singing in church is a biblical mandate,” Kevin Green, pastor of Calvary Chapel in the Pacific Coast town of Fort Bragg, told the Los Angeles Times.
Calvary Chapel in Ukiah and the River of Life Church in Oroville joined Green’s church in the lawsuit.
“Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable,” Jordan Sekulow of the American Center for Law and Justice said in a statement. His father, Jay Sekulow, is an attorney representing President Donald Trump in Trump’s civil affairs.
“This ban is clearly targeted at religion,” Jordan Sekulow said.
The lawsuit does not object to the original restrictions imposed to stop the spread of the coronavirus, but more recent orders issued by Newsom.
“It’s the inconsistency,” Green said.
“He wasn’t singling out the church until he got to that singing thing. When a man is that inconsistent, I can’t believe him, and that’s why we filed the suit,” he said.
The lawsuit notes that California’s “singing and chanting ban is only applicable to places of worship.”
The suit said that in early July, “all dine-in restaurants/bars/wineries, casinos, family entertainment centers, day camps, hotels, shopping malls, childcare centers, schools, or music, tv and film production remained open and were not subject to the ban on singing or chanting.”
“Following Newsom’s more recent order issued on or about July 13, 2020, worship services, together with protests, fitness centers, offices for non-essential actors and personal care services, as well as day camps, hotels, shopping malls, childcare centers, schools, and music, tv and film production are permitted to remain open in the counties in which Plaintiffs are located. Singing and chanting, however, is only banned in places of worship,” the lawsuit said.
The lawsuit said Newsom has acted as though some groups are more equal than others.
“Despite the ongoing and even increasing restrictions on the protected First Amendment rights to freely assemble and engage in religious exercise as it relates to places of worship, Newsom has been unwavering in his support of massive protests in California,” the lawsuit said, noting Newsom’s public comments in support of protests that erupted after the May 25 death of George Floyd in police custody.
The lawsuit said singing is not an add-on to worship but an integral element of it.
“According to sincerely held religious beliefs and the commands of the Bible, Plaintiffs hold weekly worship services that consist of various forms of worship including singing, prayer, recitation of scripture, and a sermon preached by the pastor,” it said. “Singing and praying aloud as a body of Christ is an integral part of worship for believers and Plaintiffs.”