"To forbid singing in a church is morally reprehensible."
That's what California megachurch pastor Reverend Samuel Rodriguez says in response to California Governor Gavin Newsom's ban on singing and chanting in places of worship.
The ban, however, is not in effect on similar activities elsewhere in the state, Religion News Service (RNS) reports.
Three churches in California have decided to sue Newsom over the matter.
An order issued July 13 regarding COVID-19 in the state says worship services can resume, and places like fitness centres, hotels, and shopping malls can reopen in the counties of Mendocino and Butte.
But the churches in this area feel as though the order discriminates against places of worship.
"Singing and chanting ... is only banned in places of worship," sets out the complaint filed in a federal district court by Calvary Chapel Ukiah, Calvary Chapel Fort Bragg, and River of Life Church in Oroville.
The complaint, about 20 pages in length, was filed on July 15 by the American Centre for Law and Justice with two other legal groups. It asks the court to stop state officials in their counties from enforcing the ban on singing in places of worship.
Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ executive director, says banning singing in California churches is an "unconstitutional abuse of power.
"And to do it in the name of a pandemic is despicable," he adds.
The ban was said to be established because houses of worship constitute a higher risk of transmitting the COVID-19 virus to multiple households through a communal setting.
"In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk-reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing," the state document says.
"Places of worship must, therefore, discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower."
Concerns over the coronavirus remain high in the United States, with new cases of COVID-19 being diagnosed at high rates daily.
On Thursday, California reportedly surpassed New York as the worst-hit US State for cases of COVID-19. More than 443,000 cases have been confirmed in the state of California alone with more than 8,000 fatalities to-date.
Ali Bay for the Office of Emergency Services told the Associated Press that the 14-page guidance by the California Department of Public Health is a requirement.
But the three churches named on the complaint filed in court say the guidance discriminatorily targets places of worship like churches, violating their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs under the First Amendment.
They say they face an "irresolvable conflict" of having to choose between their sincere beliefs and practices or the state's requirements.
The churches also address Newsom's support of protests in support of Black Lives Matter, which have been ongoing around the world since the police killing of George Floyd in late May 2020.
"On or about July 2, 2020, following implementation of the Worship Ban, when asked to explain whether people should heed Newsom’s mandate and avoid large crowds and gatherings, Newsom refused to place the same restrictions on protestors and explained, 'We have a Constitution, we have a right to free speech,'" the complaint says, quoting a radio interview with Newsom.
The complaint cites verses from Psalms and Ephesians which support singing as a key part of Christian worship.
"To prohibit group singing and chanting is to effectively prohibit corporate Christian worship," they say.
Rodriguez says members of his Sacramento megachurch participated in singing hymns in early July with congregants adhering to social distancing requirements and wearing face masks.
Many doctors do not recommend group singing until a vaccine is available for the virus.