First Baptist Church at 500 Buena Vista Drive in Merced and all churches in California were officially allowed to return to indoor services after a 6 to 3 decision of the U. S. Supreme Court reversed California Governor Gavin Newsom’s in-person worship ban instituted on July 13.
The court heard cases brought by Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry and South Bay United Pentecostal Church, and their pastors.
In the lawsuits, the churches requested an injunction against the in-person worship ban. The court agreed the total ban on in-person worship should be blocked, but at the same time the state was allowed to impose a capacity of 25 percent maximum for houses of worship under Tier 1 restrictions.
The governor’s ban on singing and chanting was allowed to continue.
Since August 2020, religious leaders were subject to daily criminal charges of one year in jail and daily compounding $1,000 fines for each day their churches remained open for in-person services.
First Baptist Lead Pastor Dr. Joel Dorman told the Times, “We stream online to minister to those hesitant about going out, and then we also minister to people that need to be with others through our indoor services. We have two services.
“We’re still online and in person, so the ruling didn’t affect us that much.
“However, we were thrilled with the Supreme Court decision and thankful at the same time that the Supreme Court recognized from a legal point of view the constitutionality of churches gathering.
“At the same time, I can also appreciate the fact that the court reminded the state that it can’t single out churches by putting on them a restriction that they didn’t put on things similar to us. I viewed it as a First Amendment victory in general — the freedom to worship but also the freedom to assemble in general. It was a thrill that the Supreme Court validated that.
“The Supreme Court punted on singing in church. There are specific lawsuits challenging that, and I can respect the Supreme Court making a narrow ruling, but hopefully the ban on singing will be overturned too.
“Right now, we’re just thankful that our gathering is validated.
“Churches provide an outlet to center ourselves and get an eternal perspective.
“We don’t live just for this world, and how we disagree is a reflection of our faith, and it’s okay to disagree and it provides that pressure release.
“With all the suicides going up and depressions increasing, we know that we can help with people by giving emotional and spiritual support.
“We can provide something that no other organization can.
“I know many pastors in our city, and we are all conducting ourselves with wisdom and handling worship as safely as can be expected. We know how to be in communities; we have done this a long time.
“I’m sure most churches are in the category of working through this carefully. We are very aware of the times we’re living in.
“We weren’t necessarily waiting for permission either.
“Our first priority is God. We were doing what churches do, serving and loving our city. For us personally, it didn’t change all that much.
“Certainly having the 25 percent occupancy is easily done, considering how big our room is.
“We have every three pews roped off so that there are 10 to 12 feet between the pews.
“Singing and chanting is part of our expression, but again one victory at a time.
“I disagree but I’m not the governor. I don’t see what he sees.
“We have processes to deal with disagreeing, which is voting or a recall.”