SACRAMENTO, Calif — Thousands of people gathered Sunday night on the west side of the State's Capitol building, many without masks and little distance between each other, as they sang and prayed at a worship event permitted by the California Highway Patrol.
The CHP issued a permit for an event called Let Us Worship. The event was planned from 5 to 8 p.m. and featured Sean Feucht. He started the Let Us Worship Movement in response to how governments deemed worship as non-essential during the coronavirus pandemic, and California Governor Gavin Newsom banned singing during church services and worship.
In a press release, Jaime Coffee, public information officer for the CHP, said the event was permitted for 1,000 people. Feucht estimated that roughly 12,000 people gathered, however, CHP put the number closer to 3,000 people.
"The majority of the participants gathered on the west steps and failed to socially distance," Coffee said in the release. "Prior to the event start, the Capitol Permit Officer indicated those who were showing up at the Capitol were socially distancing. Additionally, the permit officer was walking around the crowd verbally reminding people."
Coffee added that the Capitol Permit Officer gave the organizer a statement to read to the crowd, which they did, on the need for social distancing. However, CHP did not take action.
"Given the large number of people present for this event and the fact that it was a relatively short event the on scene manager made the decision to let the event continue to conclusion," Coffee said in the release. "Other factors involved in this decision include factoring in the resources needed to disperse a crowd of this size, safety of the participants, the time it would take, as well as other protest events in the Sacramento area."
The movement started as a petition and has evolved to large worship events where Feucht tours across the country, gathering people together to sing and pray.
In addition to a lack of masks and distance between attendees, California's Senate Republican leader Shannon Grove attended and spoke at the event. Grove, along with other Republican senators, was barred from entering the capitol building due to their direct exposure to Sen. Brian Jones, who tested positive for the coronavirus Aug. 26.
Grove was seen up on the stage with Feucht and opens the event with no masks visible. Based on the video of the event, Grove did appear to keep her distance from the people on the stage, for the most part, while the crowd is closely packed.
Grove, like Feucht, has been critical of Newsom's handling of the pandemic. She said the guidelines set for churches were not consistent with policies set for secular organizations in a press release.
"I am extremely disappointed by the Governor's guidelines for reopening Houses of Worship, especially as today we remember those who bravely sacrificed for our freedoms, including those guaranteed by the First Amendment," Grove said.
Feucht published a video two weeks before the event stating that he estimated thousands of people to attend, more than what he told the CHP when applying for a permit.
A month before the event, Feucht also announced that he invited Newsom to join him and other worshipers at the service.
According to the guidelines put forward by the California Department of Public Health, attendees at outdoor worship services should, at minimum, be six feet away from people who are not living in the same home.
ABC10 reached out for comment from Feucht, Newsom, and Sacramento County's Department of Public Health, and all have yet to respond. Grove's office said she would not comment on her attendance at the event at this time.
Billy Roberts describes how the coronavirus made it difficult to breathe and recommends everyone act as if they have the virus.