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California revises indoor church guidelines after court ruling

SLO City Church
Local pastors say they will continue to follow public health guidelines like requiring masks and distancing.

The U.S. Supreme Court is telling California that it can't bar indoor church services because of the coronavirus pandemic, but it can keep—for now—a ban on singing and chanting indoors.

The ban on indoor worship services is now lifted after the Supreme Court said the order appears to violate the U.S. Constitution's protection of the free exercise of religion. 

“ I was glad to hear that," said Pastor Doug Pittam with the San Luis Nazarene Church. "It kind of feels like we’ve been singled out as nonessential, and it was nice to be valued.”

Pittam said although he’s glad to resume indoor worship, the church won’t be rushing the reopening and will strictly follow health guidelines.

“We have people of all ages and I just look at the congregation and I think of my 92-yearold mother," Pittam said. " I’m not going to put her in danger, and I think we'd treat everyone else as family, too.”

While indoor worship can resume, the justices said the state can cap indoor services at 25 percent capacity. Pastor Aaron Carlberg with Element Christian Church in Santa Maria said it has some indoor worshipping now, but with the restrictions in place.

“The interesting thing is, people coming inside actually socially distanced better inside than they ever did outside," Carlberg said. "I felt like you are kind of the sheriff outside, and inside, because of how the chairs are set up, it actually ended up being a better social distance thing than it ever was outside.”

Pastor Brent Bramer of SLO City Church said he was relatively indifferent to the court ruling and still intends on keeping his congregation meeting outdoors for now. 

“We are taking a long gain approach saying, ‘let's wait till the numbers really die down,'" Bramer said. "We all want normal, but I think we are a long way off from that normal and just because a court rules something doesn’t mean everybody feels normal and is willing to jump back inside.”

Bramer said despite having to navigate the changes of COVID-19 restrictions, he feels a church is anywhere where people can meet together, whether online or outside, to help each other through a tough year. 

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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