On September 7 2020, a Facebook user shared the following post claiming that thousands of Christians had flocked to the California State Capitol the previous day — but the media did not report the large turnout.
The post claimed:
12,000 plus Christians gather to worship at the California State Capital on Sunday [September 6 2020] because they are locked out of their churches. No rioting, looting, burning down business. No fights with Law Enforcement and NO MEDIA coverage.
Discourse About the Event
On the same day the Facebook claim was posted, commentator Todd Starnes — who was, the last time we checked, a member of the media — blogged about the gathering on his website. His post, which was headlined “More Than 12,000 Christians Defy Governor, Worship at California Capitol,” mentioned media coverage in its first few sentences:
More than 12,000 thousands of all races and backgrounds gathered in the sweltering heat to worship Jesus Christ at the state capitol building in Sacramento, California.
The Christians did so in defiance of Governor Gavin Newsom, the Democrat governor responsible for shutting down many churches across the state.
The Sacramento Bee, a leftist newspaper, noted that most of those attending were not wearing masks and they were not in compliance with the governor’s mandates.
News About the September 6 2020 Rally
Although one of the most popular Facebook posts about the rally claimed “NO MEDIA coverage” followed it, as Starnes mentioned, the Sacramento Bee reported the event. That article described the crowd as numbering in the “thousands,” adding that few attendees wore masks or practiced social distancing:
Neither coronavirus restrictions nor record-smashing heat could stop a large crowd from assembling outside the Capitol in Sacramento for a Christian music concert Sunday evening [September 6 2020].
Almost none of the thousands attending wore a mask during the hours-long event, and spectators were packed in about as tight as could be, photos and video from the concert/protest demonstration show. That prompts concern amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has infected close to 20,000 people in Sacramento County and killed over 330 residents, including 190 deaths in the capital city.
Christian musicians and speakers, including the state senate’s Republican party leader, nonetheless took the stage on the west steps of the Capitol for what organizers called a “Let Us Worship” rally. Events branded under that title have toured West Coast cities in recent weeks, including Redding, Fresno and Pismo Beach.
A crowd size estimate was not available at press time:
[Organizer Sean] Feucht boasted on social media that Sunday’s concert drew more than 11,000 people to California’s Capitol. A CHP spokesperson did not immediately respond to The Bee’s request for comment including an estimate on crowd size, but images from the event show it reached at least several thousand, exacerbating COVID-19 concerns even further. CHP said late Monday it allowed the protest to go ahead because it was a relatively short event.
That outlet linked to a site for a broader movement, LetUsWorship.us, which was sparsely populated with content. A landing page in part addressed restrictions on large gatherings due to the active pandemic:
… our freedom to worship God and obey His Word has come under unprecedented attack. Powerful politicians and social media giants have engaged in unchartered abuses of religious liberty, silencing the faithful, banning our voices, and outright attacking our God-given right to declare His goodness.
States across America, including here in California have shut down church services and even outlawed singing in church. Instagram and Twitter is censoring Christian voices every single day. And every hour that passes they grow bolder in their efforts to silence the faithful.
On September 8 2020, KOVR-TV covered the rally, but it was not able to confirm the claim that 12,000 people attended:
On [September 6 2020], Feucht held an event on the front steps of the California State Capitol building. He claims that Capitol Police estimated about 12,000 people attended.
As could be seen in videos taken from the rally, social distancing was not enforced and many – if not most – attendees were not wearing face masks.
Infectious Disease expert, Dr. Dean Blumberg, says it’s possible that there were many people at the gathering who were potentially infectious, who were either pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic, and could transmit COVID-19 to others.
“That’s really a recipe for transmission and can lead to further outbreaks not only among the people who are in attendance but their contacts, too,” Dr. Blumberg said.
According to California Highway Patrol’s guidance for in-person protests on Capitol grounds, there is no longer a limit on how many people can attend constitutionally-protected First Amendments activities. However, strict physical distancing of a minimum of six-feet between attendees should be implemented for events.
Among other news outlets reporting on the rally was KTXL via Associated Press, noting that “Feucht tweeted that the turnout amounted to 12,000 people, which the California Highway Patrol has yet to verify.” CBS News, a national network, also published an article about the event, again reiterating that the 12,000 attendees count had originated with the event’s organizer, Feucht, who would likely have a vested interest in overestimating its popularity:
A pastor associated with Bethel Church in Redding, California, held a prayer service and protest against coronavirus prevention measures on the California State Capitol grounds on [September 6 2020]. He is claiming more than 12,000 people attended, CBS Sacramento reports.
Worship Pastor Sean Feucht has been holding Christian concerts across the U.S. amid the coronavirus pandemic in defiance of local orders against large gatherings.
Feucht rails against the preventive measures being taken to stop the spread of the virus, arguing that freedom of being able to practice religion is being infringed.
What’s True, What’s Not True, and What’s Unknown
Social media posts claimed 12,000 Christians flooded the California State Capitol on September 6 2020, in defiance of state orders prohibiting large gatherings, and “no media coverage” followed the massive event. It is true that Feucht organized a prayer rally and protest against preventive measures during the pandemic, but the claim 12,000 people attended came from him alone. It was not true that the event went unreported; local outlets (the Sacramento Bee and affiliates) as well as national news sources (CBS News and AP) reported on the event.