Sacramento, CA – At the behest of Governor Gavin Newsom, late yesterday the Director of the California Department of Public Health issued an order banning indoor church services for 30 counties. Specifically, the order requires places of worship to “close all indoor operations.” This order covers approximately 80% of California’s nearly 41 million residents.
The PJI Legal Department has reviewed the order and has determined the following. First, unlike many documents issued by the State, this is not a mere guidance or recommendation. It is an order. Second, it is an enforceable order which potentially carries criminal sanctions as a misdemeanor. In that we are familiar with the cases filed challenging orders in California and elsewhere, this order was written with an eye towards court decisions adverse to churches and other religious institutions.
As a result, churches are left with the option of holding services online or outdoors. In terms of numbers, it is PJI’s position that churches must be treated with the same amount of latitude by authorities as has been given to those engaging in recent protests. Regarding enforcement, some municipal police departments and county sheriffs have chosen not to issue citations to churches. However, there have been certain exceptions.
PJI acknowledges the consternation of ministers who find themselves dismayed by state and county governments which tell them not to sing and has effectively locked them out of their buildings during the heat of summer. We also understand that ministers must take into consideration legal, medical, and spiritual dynamics in decisions regarding the operation of the church. For some, in light of the spiritual and emotional wellbeing of their flock, as a matter of conscience they feel compelled to fully open. Though the results are never certain, PJI remains committed to zealously defend churches without charge in the event of citation and prosecution.