California Lifts Pandemic Limits on Churches

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Chez Hadley

In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that has struck down COVID-19 public health mandates, the state of California officially lifted the occupancy limits on indoor worship services on April 12.

“In response to recent judicial rulings, effective immediately, location and capacity limits on places of worship are not mandatory but are strongly recommended”, the state’s revised guidance for houses of worship stated.

In what is the fifth time the Supreme Court has rejected the Ninth Circuit’s analysis of California’s COVID re-strictions on religious exercise, the 5/4 decision concluded, “Where the government permits other activities to proceed with precautions, it must show that the religious exercise at issue is more dangerous than those activities even when the same precautions are applied. Otherwise, precautions that suffice for other activities suffice for religious exercise too.

“I’ve always felt that each individual church should be able to make a decision of what’s best for their ministry and community, but the reality is we’re still living in a pandemic and we should not politicize this issue because a lot of our members and their families have been drastically affected especially in the black and brown community,” K.W. Tulloss, President of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Los Angeles.

With one of her deacons advising that they would not be returning to Sunday services due to pre-existing conditions, Apostle Beverly “Bam” Crawford of Bible Enrichment Fellowship International says she is proceeding with caution.

“Some people are not ready to come back. They are still afraid,” Crawford said. “Vaccines don’t mean you can throw caution to the wind. They just minimize the symptoms, so I’m still going to adhere to what I believe to be great health protocols. We’re going to ask people to wash their hands, wear their masks and social distance. We just want people to be safe.”

The California Department of Public Health guidelines is still strongly discouraging indoor gatherings, advising churches in the orange tier—which includes Los Angeles— to limit their capacity to 50%. According to state guidelines, those who are singing or chanting in Sunday services “must wear face coverings at all times and must maintain physical distancing from congregants and other performers. 

Houses of worship are still being asked to improve ventilation as much as possible.

Governor Gavin Newsom—who has set June 15 as the date the state will fully reopen—tweeted out California’s positivity rate of 1.5%, citing “Not only is that the lowest in the nation — it’s the lowest positivity rate in CA since the beginning of the pandemic.”

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