A California county has banned churches from featuring singing and the use of wind instruments in their online services during the COVID-19 pandemic unless the performance is done at the individual’s residence.
Mendocino County in Northern California released the order April 10, saying the referenced rules run through at least May 10 and apply to churches, concert halls, auditoriums, temples and playhouses. Any recording or live-streamed event must be limited to four individuals at the venue, with all social distancing rules being practiced.
The county’s order targets churches with multiple people on stage singing and playing instruments.
“No singing or use of wind instruments, harmonicas, or other instruments that could spread COVID-19 through projected droplets shall be permitted unless the recording of the event is done at one’s residence, and involving only the members of one’s household or living unit, because of the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19,” the order says.
Seminary president Albert Mohler criticized the order in a column Monday.
“[T]o be clear, authorities can and should require that churches respect and maintain physical distancing between all the very limited participants in a streamed worship service,” wrote Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. “The worship leader, the other musicians, and the pastor should comply with the local, state, and federal guidelines that are in place to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
“It is an entirely different matter, however, to tell Christians that they cannot sing in praise and honor of God. Indeed, these orders came out just days before Resurrection Sunday – orders saying that Christians, on the day where they celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, are prohibited from signing.”
Much of Mohler’s column referenced the banning of drive-in churches, as has happened in several locations.
Although churches “should follow generally applicable shelter-in-place orders,” they should not be singled out, Mohler wrote.
“During this crisis, governments must determine what services are essential to society and those that can be suspended in order to slow the spread of the virus,” Mohler wrote. “However, we have a major problem when governments indicate that liquor stores and pet stores are essential but religious services are not. When governments assert that abortions are essential but singing in a streamed worship service is just too unsafe and nonessential, then we have slipped into a complete upending of the American constitutional order.
“Government should never be in the position to derail any religious ministry and deem it nonessential. That is, on its face, completely unconstitutional,” Mohler concluded.
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Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.