Many churches across the nation have either adapted to meet social distancing guidelines with drive-in services or open-air preaching or have opted instead to move to online-only sermons and worship.
One California county, however, wants even tighter control over churches, going so far as to ban singing and the use of certain instruments in livestreamed worship services on the premise that such activity can spread the novel coronavirus.
According to a guidance document for livestreamed religious services from Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan, there is an extensive safety checklist churches and ministers must complete in order to meet the county’s demands for a worship service.
The county allows groups of no more than four people to gather while livestreaming a service, provided that they follow six-foot social distancing guidelines, frequently wash hands with soap and water for at least twenty seconds or use hand sanitizer “that is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as effective in combating COVID-19,” cover coughs or sneezes (into the sleeve or elbow, not hands), regularly clean high-touch surfaces, avoid shaking hands, and wear facial coverings as much as possible if you are not on camera.
The guidance document continues:
Also, singing and the use of wind instruments, harmonicas, or other instruments that could spread COVID-19 through projected droplets, are not permitted when recording the service outside of one’s home because such activity can result in an increased spread of COVID19.
According to Mendocino County, its coronavirus health order is “enforceable by imprisonment and/or fine.”
Dr. Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, while clarifying that Christians have an obligation to “comply with general policies that attempt to abate the spread of the coronavirus,” warned that policies like that in Mendocino County become incredibly dangerous when they single out churches in this way.
“Governmental authorities cannot intrude upon the integrity of Christian worship, which is exactly what these orders violate,” he wrote, pointing to Kentucky, where drive-in church attendees were harassed by authorities. “Government should never be in the position to derail any religious ministry and deem it nonessential. That is, on its face, completely unconstitutional.”
Precisely how much power are we willing to cede to government authorities—especially unelected authorities like public health officers—over our every move?
Will churches in Mendocino County be pushed to livestream during every flu season, or worse, if the novel coronavirus turns out to be cyclical? Will Dr. Doohan ban praise and worship singing every time there is an outbreak of infectious disease?
The precedent has been set, and it is an incredibly dangerous one.
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