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Congregation to Ignore California's Singing Ban

Organizations say they'll fight the coronavirus restriction, though an expert says it's legal
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 10, 2020 4:05 PM CDT

(Newser) – Crossroads Community Church Senior Pastor Jim Clark wants to keep his 1,500 Sacramento parishioners safe during the coronavirus pandemic, but he's drawing the line at a new California ban on singing or chanting at religious services. "We will be singing and praising the Lord," Clark said, adding, "We don't chant, but if we did chant, we'd be chanting, too." The California ban was one of a number of restrictions on indoor businesses and gatherings put in place last week by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the AP reports, as virus cases and hospitalizations are rising quickly. It's unclear if any similar prohibitions on singing exist in the US, though there is one in England. The virus is more easily transmitted indoors, and singing releases minuscule droplets that can carry the disease. The ban may end up in court as there are differing opinions on its legality, with some groups arguing it infringes on religious freedom while others believe it's constitutional, especially during a pandemic.

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The American Center for Law and Justice, a religious freedom law firm with ties to President Trump, said it will sue. "We can't stand by and watch as California strips its believers of their God-given right to raise their voices in worship and praise," Executive Director Jordan Sekulow said. The center did not say how quickly it would sue. Another conservative-leaning legal group, the Pacific Justice Institute, told faith leaders in a letter that Newsom's guidance is advisory because it does not say it is an order, cites no legal authority, isn't signed by any official, and includes no reference to penalties. A state official, however, said the guidance must be followed. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the law school at the University of California-Berkeley, said the ban is legally enforceable. "This restriction surely is constitutional, especially as cases of COVID-19 are surging," he said. The California Catholic Conference said it would comply.

(Read more coronavirus stories.)

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