California’s health department last week banned churches and other houses of worship from singing and chanting during in-person gatherings and also urged religious leaders to continue meeting online.
The California Department of Public Health, in a guidance issued July 1, said singing can transmit the coronavirus more so than talking.
“Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations,” the guidance says.
“In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing. Places of worship must, therefore, discontinue singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower,” it says.
The Department of Public Health, the guidance says, “strongly” recommends “that places of worship continue to facilitate remote services and other related activities for those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 including older adults and those with co-morbidities.”
The order sparked debate on social media.
“This is where every church should draw the line & practice civil disobedience,” tweeted Tom Buck, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lindale, Texas. “They must choose to obey God rather than man! Of course, part of that involves being willing to suffer the consequences, but the churches must not bow to this totalitarian order.”
“Grossly, transparently unconstitutional,” U.S. Sen Ted Cruz tweeted.
Religious leaders in California who spoke to KCRA-TV in Sacramento were divided on the guidance.
“The way that we worship God best is by honoring each other and the way that we honor each other right now means keeping each other healthy and alive,” said Rabbi Mona Alfi of Congregation B’nai Israel. Alfi agreed with the guidance. “What’s the point of praying if it’s going to lead to someone’s hospitalization or God forbid, their death?”
But Jim Clark, senior pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Yuba City, said the guidelines infringe on religious freedom. The church already checks temperatures, distances seats and caps attendance at 25 percent of capacity.
“I think it’s ridiculous personally,” Clark said. “I really believe that it is stepping on the constitutional rights from the Bill of Rights on churches.”
Photo courtesy: Hannah Busing/Unsplash
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.