(CNN) — Three Northern California churches have gone to federal court to challenge the state’s ban on singing and chanting in houses of worship, arguing that it unfairly singles out religious services while ignoring protests against police brutality.
Gov. Gavin Newsom issued the ban earlier this month in an attempt to curb the spread of the coronavirus, with state health officials noting that singing and chanting “present an increased likelihood for transmission of COVID-19 through contaminated exhaled droplets.”
The suit was filed Wednesday in the Eastern District of California by Calvary Chapel in Ukiah, Calvary Chapel in Fort Bragg, and River of Life Assembly of God Church in Oroville on grounds the ban violates constitutional rights to freedom of speech and religion.
The suit said Newsom refused to apply the restrictions on gatherings to protesters against police brutality. Instead, the governor “explained ‘we have a Constitution, we have a right to free speech,’ and further stated that ‘we are all dealing with a moment in our nation’s history that is profound and pronounced … Do what you think is best,'” according to the complaint seeking an injunction against the ban.
Newsom’s office has not immediately replied to CNN’s request for comment.
“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 suit said.
In March, Newsom issued an executive order prohibiting all in-person worship services in an attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus but permitted them to reopen in late May.
During the first week of July, the state issued a temporary ban on indoor singing and chanting in places of worship after state data showed an increase in cases in community settings.
“Practices and performances present an increased likelihood for transmission of Covid-19 through contaminated exhaled droplets and should occur through alternative methods like internet streaming,” California’s Department of Public Health announced in an order earlier this month.
On July 13, 29 counties representing 80% of the state’s population were ordered to close indoor operations, including places of worship.
Singing at services has proven to be one way to spread the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The agency studied how coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a Washington choir practice.
“The act of singing, itself, might have contributed to transmission through emission of aerosols, which is affected by loudness of vocalization,” the CDC said in a May report.
Citing Scripture to underscore the role of singing in church, the suit said: “The book of Ephesians in the Bible commands that Plaintiffs ‘be imitators of God’ and ‘speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.'”
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