Bethany Blankley | The Center Square contributor 12 hrs ago
(The Center Square) – The state of California amended its ban on houses of worship, granting performers who previously were also banned the ability to sing on private property during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state is still recommending no singing and chanting among participants gathering at their respective houses of worship and is still imposing capacity limitations and other guidelines.
California’s restriction changes came on Friday, before the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday granted a petition for relief requested by South Bay Pentecostal, which sued Newsom last year. Monday’s order is the sixth time the Supreme Court has rejected the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ analysis of California’s COVID restrictions on religious free exercise, Liberty Counsel, a religious freedom organization that has sued the state multiple times, notes.
“Unless there is a judicial declaration that Governor Newsom has acted unconstitutionally, there is nothing keeping him from changing his mind again, whether in this crisis or any future crisis,” Liberty Counsel argues.
The state’s revised guidelines state, “In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended. Additionally, the restrictions on indoor singing and chanting are recommended only, and are consistent with the recommendations in the guidance on gatherings.
“Places of worship should discourage audience members from singing, chanting, and similar practices that may increase the likelihood of transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets and aerosols. Performers who are singing, chanting, or playing wind instruments without masks must follow the guidance for live events and performances. The guidance for places of worship and cultural ceremonies is in the process of being updated. All other restrictions in the guidance remain in place.”
The guidelines indicate tier status for houses of worship to follow. For those in the purple tier, “indoor activities are strongly discouraged and should be limited to 25% of capacity;” those in the red tier, “Indoor activities should be limited to 25% of capacity;” those in the orange tier, “indoor activities should be limited to 50% of capacity;” and those in the yellow tier, “indoor activities should be limited to 50% of capacity.”
The state also published a guidance for places of worship and providers of religious services to follow, stating that they include churches, mosques, synagogues and temples. The guidance also applies to cultural ceremonies including weddings and funerals.
“The State of California has spent more than a year violating the religious liberty of millions of its residents,” Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said in a statement. “We intend to continue our litigation and discover the State’s internal communications and documents to prove that their restrictions were completely unjustified.”
Advocates, along with the ACLJ, sued Newsom, who is now facing a recall election over his handling of the state’s shutdown. The groups, representing Calvary Chapel Ukiah, Calvary Chapel of Fort Bragg and River of Life Church, argue his worship ban is unconstitutional.
River of Life’s pastor, Scott Thomson, said, “Worship has been an essential part of the practice of the Christian faith since its inception over 2,000 years ago. As a local body, we know first-hand how worshiping together impacts the personal lives of our families in a positive way, to bring peace and hope in troubling times. We have been worshiping together safely during this pandemic and the fact that we have had zero outbreaks in our fellowship is proof that it is not only probable but a proven fact. We will continue to fight for the freedoms set out in the original documents of our country.”
The Supreme Court ruled on April 9 that Newsom’s restrictions on home Bible study and worship violate the First Amendment. In the last year, it has also issued five injunctions pending appeal in the last year and three separate times stated that modification of limits on religious worship services do not moot claims for injunctive relief against such restrictions.
In another six cases, the Supreme Court granted the churches’ requests, vacated the lower court rulings, and ordered the lower courts to reconsider the restrictions in light of its prior rulings. All of these rulings favored houses of worship against executive orders issued by governors.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “The High Court has already issued a clear road map that leads to the conclusion that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s discrimination against places of worship is unconstitutional. The handwriting on the wall is obvious. We will continue to fight until the lower courts permanently quarantine him so that he never imposes unconstitutional restrictions on churches.”