Mendocino County in Northern California is restricting churches from streaming worship singing and the playing of wind instruments in online church services unless the worship originates from individual residences.
The order issued by the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors states, "No singing or use of wind instruments, harmonicas, or other instruments that could spread COVID-19 through projected droplets shall be permitted unless the recording of the event is done at one's residence, and involving only the members of one's household or living unit, because of the increased risk of transmission of COVID-19."
The County Board warns, "Violation of or failure to comply with this Order is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both."
The county's effective ban on worship teams lasts until May 10, 2020, and includes "venues, such as concert halls, auditoriums, churches, temples, and playhouses," and says, "Only four individuals may be present for the live event. All others must participate remotely."
Dr. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary says the order violates the "integrity of Christian worship."
He said officials "can and should require that churches respect and maintain physical distancing between all the very limited participants in a streamed worship service... It is an entirely different matter, however, to tell Christians that they cannot sing in praise and honor of God."
The order was issued just days before Easter and is still in effect for another month.
Mohler adds, "Indeed, these orders came out just days before Resurrection Sunday—orders saying that Christians, on the day where they celebrate the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, are prohibited from singing. Governmental authorities cannot intrude upon the integrity of Christian worship, which is exactly what these orders violate."
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This is the just latest example of localities threatening churches that are trying to find ways to honor social distancing guidelines while still functioning as churches.
For example, the mayor of Greenville, Mississippi tried to fine members of the Temple Baptist Church $500 a piece for a drive-in church service on April 8 in which the churchgoers stayed in their cars. The mayor has since backed off under pressure.
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