Four law firms, three California churches sue Governor Newsom for California ban on singing and chanting

By Michael Hernandez

SACRAMENTO—Governor Gavin Newsom was sued July 15 in a lawsuit brought by four law firms: Advocates for Faith & Freedom; American Center for Law & Justice; The National Center for Law and Policy; and Tyler & Bursch on behalf of three churches: Calvary Chapel of Ukiah and Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg (both in Mendocino County) and River of Life Church in Oroville (Butte County).

The 20-page lawsuit names California Governor Gavin Newsom; California Public Health Officer Dr. Sonia Angell; Mendocino Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Dooham; and Butte County Public Health Officer Dr. Ngoc-Phuong Luu. 

The lawsuit is filed in the Redding office of the United States district court for the Eastern District of California and seeks the Court to issue a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO), Preliminary Injunction, and a Permanent Injunction from enforcing the Worship Ban and the County Orders enforcing the Worship Ban.  

The lawsuit states that on July 1 the California Department of Public Health updated its Worship Guidance to include the Worship Ban by stating places of worship “must therefore discontinue singing and chanting.”  On July 11, a spokeswoman for California’s Office of Emergency Services, Ali Bay, confirmed that the Worship Ban “must be followed” reiterating that it “has the same authority as all of California Department of Public Health’s other guidance, directives, and orders, which the governor has ordered residents to heed.”

The lawsuit states that singing and chanting is only banned in worship services and is not restricted in secular gatherings with the Governor “unwavering in his support of massive protests in California” as evidenced:

  • May 30 tweet: “Millions of people are lifting their voices in anger—rightfully outrages at the systemic racism that persists in America.
  • June 1 press conference: “For those of you out there protesting, I want you to know that you matter. To those who want to express themselves…God bless you. Keep doing it. Your rage is real.”
  • June 5 tweet: “Protestors have the right to protest peacefully.”

The lawsuit states that “plaintiffs are evangelical Christian churches committed to the teachings of the Bible. According to sincerely held religious beliefs and the commands of the Bible, plaintiffs hold weekly worship services that consist of various forms of worship including singing, prayer, recitation of scripture and a sermon preached by the pastor.  Singing and praying aloud is an integral part of worship for believers and Plaintiffs.

The lawsuit gives four causes of action:

  1. The worship ban violates plaintiffs’ right to free exercise of religion under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  2. The worship ban violates the establishment clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  3. The worship bans violates plaintiffs’ right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
  4. The worship ban violates plaintiffs’ right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The lawsuit seeks a Declaratory Judgment declaring that the Worship Ban is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution and that the Court award Plaintiffs nominal damages and the reasonable costs and expenses (including reasonably attorney’s fees).

“Let it be clear, the State does not have the jurisdiction to ban houses of worship from singing praises to God,” said Robert Tyler.  “Banning singing in California churches is an unconstitutional abuse of power,” said Jordan Sekulow, Executive Director of ACLJ. “And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable.  This ban is clearly targeted at religion. It is clearly a violation of the First Amendment and a direct violation of religious liberty.”  

Robert H. Tyler and Nada N. Higuera are with Tyler & Bursch; Jay and Jordan Sekulow, Edward L. White III, Erick M. Zimmerman and Abigail A. Southerland are with the American Center for Law & Justice; and Dean R. Broyles with the National Center for Law & Policy.

Tyler & Bursch and Advocates for Faith & Freedom have offices in Murrieta (Riverside County) and Anaheim (Orange County) and have served businesses and individuals throughout Southern California for over 20 years especially in defense of Constitutional and Religious Liberties. The American Center for Law and Justice based in Washington, D.C. focuses on the preservation and defense of religious liberties.   

The Plaintiffs include: Pastor Les Boek for Calvary Chapel Ukiah;  Kevin Green for Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg; and Pastor Scott Thomson for River of Life Church.

Meanwhile, the American Center for Law and Justice petition entitled ‘Don’t Ban Singing in Church” has generated 235,959 signatures in 11 days.  (Editor: To sign the petition go to this link: https://aclj.org/religious-liberty/dont-ban-singing-in-church.)

The nationwide ACLJ petition states: “Radical Left-run states are banning singing in church. This is a blatant violation of our religious free exercise and free speech. The Coronavirus pandemic is real, and no community has done more to be flexible and ensure the health and safety of their congregants than churches all across America.

“We all want to keep America safe, and the ACLJ has been hard at work to do that. But NOTHING should be allowed to trample our constitutional rights. The radical Left has gone too far. Banning singing is an unconstitutional abuse of power. And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable. In California, the ban is as direct as it is unconstitutional: “places of worship must…discontinue singing.”  This is clearly targeted at religion and clearly a violation of the First Amendment.

“At the ACLJ, we are preparing to potentially file lawsuits on behalf of numerous churches if the state won’t back down. These cases could quickly head to the Supreme Court. We urgently need you to take action with us now.”

(Editor’s Note: To see a copy of the lawsuit view this link:

http://media.aclj.org/pdf/Calvary_Chapel_of_Ukiah-v-Newsom_Complaint_Redacted.pdf. To see the July 10 Citizens Journal story on the Governor’s Worship Ban go to:

https://www.citizensjournal.us/california-faith-community-ignores-governors-ban-on-singing-and-chanting-dont-ban-singing-in-church-petition-gains-thousands-of-signatures/.)

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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