Harvest Rock Church Files Federal Lawsuit Against Newsom's Church Ban

People wait in line at Godspeaker Calvary Chapel sanctuary on Palm Sunday, Despite state and local public health ordering churches, being deemed non-essential, to close, the Newbury Park church opened its doors for a Communion service. (APU GOMES/AFP via Getty Images)

(City News Service) A church with campuses in Pasadena, Irvine and Corona filed an emergency request with a federal judge early today seeking a temporary restraining order halting the threat of enforcement of Gov. Gavin Newsom's ban on singing and chanting in places of worship — enacted to help fight the spread of the coronavirus — at Sunday's service and all future services.

Pasadena-based Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry Inc. allege in a federal civil complaint against the governor that the ban violates the right to religious freedom clause of the First Amendment, and the "cherished liberties for which so many have fought and died."

The church contends that failure to gather in person for religious worship services "is disobedience to the Lord for which (the church) will be held divinely accountable."

Recent guidelines issued by the state Department of Public Health, through the governor, discourage singing or chanting indoors due to fears that it increases the spread of respiratory droplets, thus increasing the risk of spreading COVID-19 among a crowd. Newsom's office could not immediately be reached for comment Saturday.

The church maintains that in times of "trouble and distress," congregants "are to sing to the Lord even more and to sing aloud to Him," according to the 74-page suit filed late Friday in Los Angeles. The emergency request for a temporary restraining order was lodged with the court early Saturday.

Harvest Rock alleges that public health guidelines unfairly target places of worship over other institutions, because Newsom supported protests over George Floyd's in-custody death and police brutality that included chanting during the pandemic.

"The Governor cannot claim a compelling, legitimate, or even rational interest in his orders when he has permitted and encouraged mass gatherings of thousands of protesters to engage in the very activity he claims poses a massive danger to California if it takes place in Plaintiffs' churches,'' the suit states.

Harvest Rock, which has 162 member churches throughout the state, including campuses in Los Angeles, Orange and Riverside counties, alleges that it "cannot fulfill its vital ministry and sincere religious beliefs without gathering together in person, and that it cannot effectively engage in its constitutionally protected free exercise of religion on the internet."

A similar lawsuit by three places of worship in the Southland was lodged in April in Los Angeles against Newsom and Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Deemed a nonessential service, churches were closed in March amid Newsom's stay-at-home orders. Restrictions subsequently eased and houses of worship were given approval to welcome worshipers, provided they followed health and safety guidelines limiting attendance.

Newsom began tightening protocols at the beginning of this month during a resurgence of the pandemic, and temporarily banned singing and chanting in places of worship.

Practices and performances present an increased likelihood for transmission of Covid-19 through contaminated exhaled droplets and should occur through alternative methods like internet streaming,'' according to the state Health Department.

In-person services are permitted if proper measures, including social distancing and use of masks, are followed, and all houses of worship are required to limit attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees.