While Snopes has repeatedly been an unreliable source, it published a “fact check” on July 6, 2020 regarding the statement that “California’s governor ‘forbids’ Christians from singing in church during the COVID-19 coronavirus disease pandemic.”
The “fact-checker” agreed that “In July 2020, California public health authorities published guidelines for places of worship and religious services to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. Among several recommendations to maintain safer social distancing, the guidelines said congregations must discontinue singing and chanting activities.” By the way, these “guidelines” are mandatory.
However, what Snopes stated as false is: “These guidelines affected all places of worship and providers of religious services, not just churches or Christian organizations. Additionally, there is no penalty from the state for violating the guidelines.”
Snopes admits that the “no singing” ban applies to all churches but tried to say it is partially inaccurate because it “applies to all places of worship.” The statement is true that the “no singing ban” applies to all churches. The article Snopes reviews never said the order applies “only to churches,” and thus Snopes is not only misleading but factually inaccurate. Moreover, as noted above, the “guidelines” are mandatory and do carry penalties.
The no singing and chanting ban was issued by Gov. Newsom on July 6. Then on July 13, Gov. Newsom went farther by banning ALL in-person worship, even for Bible studies and fellowship in private homes with anyone who does not live in the home. The no worship ban applies to any county on the County Monitoring List, which covers about 80 percent of the population. In the remaining 20 percent, limited worship is permitted but no singing and chanting continues to apply.
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On March 19, 2020, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order and Public Health Order that “directed all Californians to stay home except to go to an essential job or to shop for essential needs,” which includes a total prohibition on religious worship services, regardless of the number attending or whether social distancing and personal hygiene practices were followed, including attendance at in-home worship services. The governor does not consider religious services “essential” so people cannot leave their homes to go to church or to other homes for a Bible study.
On July 1, the governor issued revised “Worship Guidance” that imposed mandatory requirements such as “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.” It also restricts churches to hold outside services to the number of people where “strict physical distancing measures of a minimum of six feet between attendees of different households” could be managed. Thus, the governor imposed numerical restrictions on even outdoor worship services in California.
On July 6, 2020, the governor issued yet another revised “Worship Guidance” document which states unequivocally: “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.”
On July 13, 2020, Governor Newsom announced that the counties appearing on the California Department of Health’s County Monitoring List would be required to return to Stage 1 and must close all indoor operations. This includes churches as worship services would no longer be permitted in those counties. The July 13 Public Health Order also stated that counties would be monitored to see if additional counties would be placed on the list, which is more than 32 counties, or 80 percent of the population.
Therefore, Governor Newsom’s orders do affect all churches and places of worship and even home Bible studies with people other than family members. In fact, it is now even worse than no singing because all in-person worship is banned, including home Bible studies and fellowship with anyone who does not live in the home.
Snopes statement that “there is no penalty from the state for violating the guidelines” is also false. On March 19, the Governor issued Executive Order N. 33-20 incorporating and putting the full power of the Governor’s Office behind the Stay-at-Home Order, directing the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services “to take necessary steps to ensure compliance” with the order, and giving notice to the public that the order is enforceable pursuant to California Government Code § 8665, which provides that violating the Governor’s orders is a misdemeanor criminal offense punishable by up to a $1,000 fine, six months in jail, or both.
This week, Harvest Rock Church received a letter from the City of Pasadena’s Chief Assistant City Prosecutor threatening daily criminal charges unless in-person worship services cease. The letter from the Pasadena prosecutor states, “Each day in violation is a separate violation and carries with it punishment up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation…. Your compliance with these Orders is not discretionary, it is mandatory. Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the potential closures of your Church” (emphasis added).
Liberty Counsel filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s unconstitutional COVID-19 orders.
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Snopes is not a reliable source and has an obvious bias. The reality is that pastors, churches, and parishioners are now being threatened with daily criminal charges for worshiping in-person. This should never happen in America.”