Hollywood Gets To Sing But Churches Don’t

(Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court ruled Friday that California could not enforce some of its coronavirus-related bans on indoor worship services. The court, however, declined to lift bans on singing and chanting inside.

Only Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch were willing to grant all of the churches’ requests, which included lifting the bans on singing and chanting and the restrictions that enforce a 25% capacity at most indoor places of worship.

“If I have a quibble with the Court’s order, it is with how it addresses California’s final factor, singing,” Gorsuch wrote in his opinion. “While the Court’s order requires California to allow churches to open, it also permits California to enforce, for now, a categorical ban on singing during services. This much might seem understandable. California has sensibly expressed concern that singing may be a particularly potent way to transmit the disease, and it has banned singing not just at indoor worship services, but at indoor private gatherings, schools, and restaurants too.”

“But, on further inspection, the singing ban may not be what it first appears. It seems California’s powerful entertainment industry has won an exemption. So, once more, we appear to have a State playing favorites during a pandemic, expending considerable effort to protect lucrative industries while denying similar largesse to its faithful.”


WASHINGTON, DC – JANUARY 20: U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Neil M. Gorsuch arrives at the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC.  (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

The California Department of Public Health issued guidance on July 1 that ordered that “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.”

Pasadena-based Harvest Rock and Harvest International Ministry, which has more than 160 churches across the state including South Bay United Pentecostal Church, sued the state, arguing the guidance violated their First Amendment rights, according to KTLA. (RELATED: Supreme Court Rules In Favor Of Colorado Church, Bars State From Restricting Worship)

While churches took to the courts to fight what they pinned as unconstitutional infringements on their First Amendment rights, one group of Californians didn’t have to worry about Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders: those in the entertainment industry.

In Newsom’s updated April guidance, he carved out specific exceptions for the entertainment industries to bypass lockdown regulations “provided they follow covid-19 public health guidance around physical distancing.”

Gorsuch argued California has failed to explain how a ban on religious singing is narrowly tailored to fit the interests of California preventing the spread of the coronavirus when those in Hollywood have been permitted to continue performing their services. Gorsuch claims California won’t answer why even if an entire choir cannot sing, there is no reason why “even a lone muezzin may not sing the call to prayer from a remote location inside a mosque as worshippers file in.”

“The Ninth Circuit sought to defend California’s uneven regime by observing that the entertainment industry has adopted COVID-19 testing protocols. But, if that’s true, it is unclear why California’s religious institutions might be denied a similar opportunity.”

“Government actors have been moving the goalposts on pandemic-related sacrifices for months, adopting new benchmarks that always seem to put restoration of liberty just around the corner,” Gorsuch continued.

As COVID-19 cases began to rise once again, Newsom issued a limited stay-at-home order in November requiring non-essential work and gathering to stop in counties in the purple tier, which covered most of Southern California. Newsom’s guidance, however, did not apply to entertainment industry workers, according to Deadline.

Despite the continued surge, some Hollywood production is back up and running, according to The Hollywood Reporter. CBS’ “All Rise and Bob Hearts Abishola,” Showtime’s “Shameless” sand Netflix’s “You,” which are all produced by Warner Bros. resumed production in mid-January, according to the report. Universal TV is also said to have projects up and running, including two NBC series, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California’s churches, synagogues, and mosques, something has gone seriously awry,” Gorsuch wrote.