Church singing ban strikes sour note with California pastor

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Damian Dovarganes

FILE - Los Angeles Archbishop Jose H. Gomez celebrates the first English Mass with the faithful present, at the nation's largest Catholic Archdiocese in Los Angeles, Sunday, June 7, 2020. A religious freedom law firm with ties to President Donald Trump says it will sue California over its recent ban on singing or chanting in the church to slow the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Crossroads Community Church Senior Pastor Jim Clark wants to keep his 1,500 parishioners safe during the coronavirus pandemic but he's drawing the line at a new California ban on singing or chanting at religious services.

“I said enough’s enough,” Clark said. “We will be singing and praising the Lord. ... 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 amid fast-rising virus cases and hospitalizations. It's unclear if any similar prohibition on singing exists in the United States, 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 well 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.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a religious freedom law firm with ties to President Donald Trump, says 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 on the center's website. The center, which was founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, did not say how quickly it would sue.

Sekulow was a member of Trump’s defense team, and his father, Jay Sekulow, the center’s chief legal counsel, was one of Trump’s lead attorneys during the impeachment trial.

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.