California Revises Indoor Church Guidelines After Ruling

By Daisy Nguyen
Indoor church
A hundred faithful sit while minding social distancing at Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, the first Mass since the re-opening of churches, in downtown Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes,)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office over the weekend issued revised guidelines for indoor church services after the Supreme Court lifted the state’s ban on indoor worship during the coronavirus pandemic, but left in place restrictions on singing and chanting.

In the most significant legal victory against California’s COVID-19 health orders, the high court issued rulings late Friday in two cases where churches argued the restrictions violated their religious liberty. The justices said for now California can’t continue with a ban on indoor church services, but it can limit attendance to 25% of a building’s capacity and restrict singing and chanting inside.

The new state guidelines limit attendance at indoor services in areas with widespread or substantial virus spread to 25% of a building’s capacity. Indoor services in areas with moderate to minimum spread are limited to 50% capacity.

California had put the ban in place because the virus is more easily transmitted indoors and singing releases tiny droplets that can carry the disease.

Newsom’s office said those measures were imposed to protect worshippers from getting infected.

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“We will continue to enforce the restrictions the Supreme Court left in place and, after reviewing the decision, we will issue revised guidelines for worship services to continue to protect the lives of Californians,” the governor’s press secretary, Daniel Lopez, said in a statement.

Before the ruling, indoor worship services were banned in purple-tiered counties — those deemed to be at widespread risk of coronavirus transmission. This tier accounts for the vast majority of the state.

The justices were acting on emergency requests to halt the restrictions from South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista and Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state.

“You can go to your house of worship, as of now! You can go back to church, we’re excited about that,” Pastor Art Hodges of the South Bay United Pentecostal Church told KNSD-TV.

The church has defied state orders since last May by holding service indoors while following COVID-19 safety protocols, Hodges said. He said he was thankful to hold services on Sunday “without any pressure or threat or concern” and added that the 25% attendance limit will make him add two or three more services to accommodate church members.

“It at least allows us some wiggle room to operate,” he said.

On Instagram, Harvest Rock’s ministry in downtown Los Angeles announced it would hold an in-person service Saturday evening.

“Bring the kiddos! We’d love to see the whole family for service tonight!” the announcement said, followed by the hashtag #inpersonservice.

The church said in a statement it will continue to petition for the right to sing during indoor services, arguing the state was unfairly allowing the entertainment industry to film a singing competition but not during indoor worship.

“While it is one thing to lock down based on data, it is an entirely different motive to allow some groups a right that is denied to others.” the statement said.

A California church that was not a part of the Supreme Court petition, but has made headlines for meeting indoors in purple tiered Los Angeles County is Grace Community Church. The 7,000 to 10,000 member congregation met Sunday and defied singing bans and social distancing mandates, despite a recent, alleged outbreak of COVID-19 among its staff and members.

The court’s newest justice, Amy Coney Barrett, said in her first signed opinion that it was up to churches to demonstrate that they were entitled to relief from the singing ban. Writing for herself and Justice Brett Kavanaugh, she said it wasn’t clear at this point whether the singing ban was being applied “across the board.”

Not all places of worships plan to reopen right away.

The head of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco said the Supreme Court was “not doing anyone a favor” by lifting the ban.

“We’re trying to follow the science and we’re trying to be patient,” said Dean Malcolm Clemens Young told The San Francisco Chronicle.

The Archdiocese of Los Angeles, the largest of its kind in the U.S. with more than 5 million Catholics, cautiously advised “parishes who choose to return” to indoor worship to follow the singing and room-capacity rules, in addition to requiring physical distancing and face masks.

“The Archdiocese of Los Angeles is gratified by the Supreme Court’s decision to allow indoor worship services,” it said in a statement.

The court’s action follows a decision in a case from New York late last year in which the justices split 5-4 in barring the state from enforcing certain limits on attendance at churches and synagogues. Shortly after, the justices told a federal court to reexamine California’s restrictions in light of the ruling.

With few exceptions, California’s COVID-19 restrictions have been largely upheld. But a number of lawsuits, such as one seeking to allow outdoor dining, are still in the courts.

Daisy NguyenDaisy Nguyen is an Associated Press reporter based in San Francisco.



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9 thoughts on “California Revises Indoor Church Guidelines After Ruling”

  1. Dr Tom Frieden says the covid19 pestilence will be with us for years if not decades to come. It is a new and emerging health threat which will have to accept and learn to live with. The more people get it and transmit it, the stronger the virus becomes as we have seen in South Africa and Brazil. The world and church services will NEVER be the same. When we see someone cough or sneeze in a chapel, it will ring a whole new tune and take on a traumatizing ring for many. Sometime, chapel services can resemble carousing with people acting out foolishly. This the Bible condemns in the strongest terms.

    1. Carousing???? In chapel???? Hahaha!! Have you seen the crowded airplanes??? P.S. The more people that get it, the more we achieve herd immunity. So said the WHO until they just recently changed it to – the more people who get the vaccine, the more we achieve herd immunity.

  2. Californians want to recall Newsom. Great going, Californians!!!
    By the way, 297 passengers travelled from Istanbul to Miami in a Boeing 787. Were was that religious “social distance”? 12 hours and 40 minutes of flight time, over 6,000 miles. Packed like sardines. COVID-19 is a very smart and polite virus. It….knows…..when you eat….and when you travel… knows when to attack you and when to leave you alone. BLM protestors and ANTIFA are inclusive groups the virus makes an exception. So says science.
    (Jude 3)
    Post Tenebras Lux

  3. Some further information and follow-up relating to this ruling. Here in Santa Clara County within California, under the current purple tier, county officials are still banning indoor church gatherings, not even allowing them to gather indoors at 25% capacity in accordance with what the state is now allowing. Their approach to this has been, in general, to not allow any indoor gatherings to happen under the purple tier (church or non-church). And because they’ve approached banning all indoor gatherings in general under the purple tier, they believe that the Supreme Court ruling regarding indoor church services has no effect here in the county. In response, the Pacific Justice Institute has filed a lawsuit against Santa Clara County on behalf of five churches within the county (Orchard Community Church in Campbell, Gateway City Church in San Jose, Trinity Bible Church in Morgan Hill, The Home Church in Campbell and Spectrum Church in San Jose, all five of which have complied with county regulations regarding indoor gatherings up to this point in time).

    1. A further update. A U.S. district court judge on Monday night granted an injunction to temporarily block Santa Clara County’s ban on indoor worship services. The county later issued a statement allowing indoor services to resume at 20% capacity. The state of California is allowing them to resume at 25% capacity under the purple tier in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling, so this still may not be over.

      1. In yet another development, today the U.S. district court has temporarily suspended its Monday order, meaning that Santa Clara County has once again banned indoor church services for the time-being. This is a continually developing story.

  4. I have yet to see a report on this site documenting the abuses of constitutional rights (and Biblical obligations) by government officials, both elected and unelected, that are becoming so common in the era of Covid.

    There have always been attempts by earthly powers to assert authority over their subjects, in opposition to the absolute authority that God claims over all creation. While God commands us to submit to earthly authorities in general, He never indicates that we are free to disobey His direct commands to satisfy them. It is clear that most of the abuses are by those who would gladly see the right to worship and practice faith freely set aside or removed entirely if possible, in favor of an absolute state authority, and find the health threat of Covid a convenient opportunity to work towards this goal.

    So now we have the Supreme Court pushing back on this attitude and resulting actions, while many, including a significant number who claim to follow Christ, criticize and castigate those who disagree with the state over-reach, and in some cases refuse to stop following their conscience as regards God’s commands. That is, those who understand the first amendment in a way similar to those who wrote it. And note – It is the first amendment, not the fifth, fifteenth or fiftieth. First for good reason, as it was understood that it was the one that would eventually become the most contested and represents the strongest and clearest limit to state absolutism.

    Which side of this struggle is the Roys-Report on? How would “Restoring the Church” not include a return to properly prioritizing the Biblical worship of God, long missing in modern church culture?

    1. Kind of a big assumption that this is all a big power-grab. It doesn’t make sense that Newsom would make all these politically unpopular restrictions if that were his underlying motive. This is still a democracy, and he can only have power by being re-elected. Churches haven’t been targeted any more than restaurants, amusement parks, ect. The simpler explanation is that he is following the guidance of medical experts, who are trying to minimize the death count, and keep our hospitals and their staff functional.

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