SLO County’s Dan Dow responds to questions about prosecuting worshipers

August 1, 2020

In response to questions from Tribune reporter Matt Fountain about why San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said he would not prosecute people for singing in houses of worship, Dow provided his answers to CalCoastNews for the community to review.

1.) How did you come to speak at this event and who was the event for (i.e. was this related to any political party, organization, etc.)?

I attend this public event at Sculpterra Winery every year on July 4, as a guest of the owner who provides a free Independence Day celebration to all people from the community. The owner has asked me each year to address the gathering and to talk about our nation’s freedom and the importance of celebrating Independence Day. The event includes a classic car show, free food, and live music.

2.) Why did you feel the need to declare SLO County a Sanctuary County for worship? 

Because Governor Newsom’s Public Health Department announced three days earlier, on July 1st, that houses of faith must stop singing during their worship services. As District Attorney it is my duty to exercise my prosecutorial discretion in a manner that is just and appropriate. Upon hearing of the new directive, I was compelled to take a position on what I would do if a case was brought to my office.

I am firmly committed to the principle that it would be a severe injustice for my office to charge a person with a crime who has simply chosen to practice their faith by singing in church. In other words, it would simply NOT be in the interest of justice to prosecute someone for singing in their place of worship.

Finally, I call on all people of every faith in our county, our state, our nation and the world to pray for peace, to pray for healing, to pray for a cure for the Coronavirus that has devastated people all over the globe.

3.) Is it within your authority to do so?

Yes, the prosecution of criminal offenses on behalf of the People of the State of California is the sole responsibility of the public prosecutor who has sole discretion to determine whom to charge, what charges to file and pursue, and what punishment to seek.  The prosecutor’s own discretion is not subject to judicial control. (Dix v. Superior Court (1991) 53 Cal.3d 442)

The district attorney of each county independently exercises all the executive branch’s discretionary powers in the initiation and conduct of criminal proceedings.  (People ex rel. Younger v. Superior Court (1978) 86 Cal.App.3d 180)

4.) Have you been receiving communications from the public asking you to take this stand?

No, although I have been asked by many about whether they could be charged with a crime and what would happen to them if they sing in a worship service in violation of the guidance.

5.) Have there been any instances of the county cracking down on gatherings of worship?

The Public Health Department has informed leaders in the faith community, and the community at large, that places of worship may not exercise singing or chanting.

6.) In your open letter to the faith community, you said the county wouldn’t enforce gathering restriction until there was further clarification from the higher court. But SCOTUS ruled in support of the California restrictions May 30, before these comments. Have you changed your mind?

Your reference to my May 21, 2020 letter is inaccurate. I said, “this office will not seek criminal enforcement for alleged violations involving those who meet in-person for religious purposes during Phase 2 of the reopening plan so long as social distancing and other health guidelines are followed.”

The California prohibition substantially changed after I wrote my letter and before the Supreme Court’s ruling which was made on a uniquely different issue than was presented when I wrote my letter.

I strongly encourage houses of worship to follow all of the health guidance issued by the state in order to reduce the likelihood of spreading the coronavirus except for the recommendation of not meeting in person and not singing.

I am convinced that it would be severely unjust to seek criminal enforcement against an individual attending a service at their house of worship or a member of the clergy for performing their important leadership duties.

7.) Is this message consistent with the county’s Public Health directives?

This is a question for County health officials to answer.

8.) You appear to be nodding when the gentleman in the American shirt says there is no systematic racism in SLO County. Do you agree with that statement?

Please listen to Scott Peterson’s entire statement. He did not say there is no racism in SLO County. He clearly said that there is racism in the country, but he hasn’t seen it in law enforcement. His statement is: “I’ve been a cop for 26 years now, and uh, I know a lot of police officers, I really do. And uh, this whole idea of systemic racism, I know that there is racism in this country, but as a man who has been in the profession for a very long time, I just haven’t seen it.”  That is exclusively Mr. Peterson’s statement expressing his unique life experience as a law enforcement officer, not mine.

Sadly, I know all too well that racism exists in the heart of human beings of every race and every background and it is here in our county just like it is in every place where human beings live across the globe. As District Attorney, I take racism very seriously. Under my leadership, we have prosecuted numerous instances of what we call “hate crimes” where evidence of racism is often the determining factor. A “hate crime” is defined in Penal Code 422.55 as a criminal act committed because of one of the following characteristics of the victim: disability, gender, nationality, race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, association with a person or group with one or more of these actual or perceived characteristics.

I am firmly committed to uprooting racism wherever it can be found, whether in the criminal justice system or anywhere else.

9.) Not saying this is the case, but the point has been raised over and over, especially in relation to Ian’s video, that SLO County’s elected officials will say things before private groups that they wouldn’t say to the larger public they serve. How come the majority of residents have to hear your take on this from a private video?

This was not a private group. In fact, its been a widely attended public event that attracts hundreds of people on the Fourth of July each year. The event gets bigger and bigger every year and is a representation of American patriotism and celebrating freedom. The original video is not private and has been posted on YouTube since July 5, 2020. The edited video you were provided was put together by a political opponent in an attempt to construe my comments in a false light.

10.) Lastly, since I have you, the question has been raised to me and on social media: Given your social media post during the July 21 Highway shutdown, do you see any conflict at this point in the Arata/Bautista cases?


11.) And perhaps you want to respond to this quote from Supervisor Bruce Gibson, since I didn’t exactly ask a question on the separation of church and state intersecting with public policy issue: “This appears to be another of our elected law enforcement officials playing to his far-right base — except what’s quite concerning is that it appears the DA is imposing his religious beliefs to decide which California laws he will choose to enforce. That calls into serious question whether he has the impartial judgment necessary for his position.” 

It is unfortunate that the supervisor is willing to broadly describe people of faith as being “far-right.” Matters of faith are personal and know no political boundary; exercising prudent prosecutorial discretion in every type of case is exactly what the voters elected me to do. While the task of exercising discretion is not always easy, I will not apologize for declining to prosecute people for singing in their house of worship no matter the faith represented.

I am very grateful to have deep friendships with people of all faiths within our diverse community and I welcome constructive conversation with all members of our community, even with Supervisor Gibson.

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If it’s OK for these protesters to gather en masse and yell, scream and yes, even sing, in one place, crammed close together for hours and hours, then it’s Ok for people to gather in church for one hour and sing a couple of songs if they want to. Both are First Amendment Rights.

Personally, I wish Gov. Gruesome was as concerned about these protesters going out night after night, as he is about church people coming together once a week.

Like Faucci said about hooking up with some stranger on a dating app, everyone has their own level of acceptable risk.

So Dow believes Covid-19 is “fake news” and will not enforce the law. He needs to be replaced.

I don’t get it. If I want to get together with my atheist friends and sing songs with scurrilous lyrics, how is that going to be received by Mr. Dow? What’s the diff? Religious people spew forth viruses just as nonreligious do.

The difference is that a gathering of atheists singing has not been singled out for prohibition, but rather folk of any ilk gathering together singing at “worship”, regardless of religion. Screaming at a demonstration has the same effect in terms of projecting potentially contagious vapor particles, yet it has not been specifically prohibited. This “mandate” was dubious at best.

“The prosecutor’s own discretion is not subject to judicial control.”

How about subject to the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights? By what authority is the Bill of Rights nullified?

DA Dow’s world view holds worship of God as a profoundly personal, potent and life enhancing experience that is necessary for spiritual function. While that may not be a view understood by a majority, it is, none the less, critical to a large minority of Americans. The important thing to me is that he does not demean the important aspects of mask use, distancing and care to prevent the spread. Realistically, the “singing issue” was a bit over the top, even Sacramento is considering rescinding that. It is also giving a “biased” burden on a constitutionally protected freedom ( worship/religion), while we all know that the demonstrations are being given a “pass”. So, let up on the DA. His logic is sound.

Perhaps Mr. Fountain should pursue the IWMA story with the same vigor, or is the IWMA issue one which the Tribune cares not about?

They won’t. I doesn’t fit the narrative they want to promote. They would have to call out people they approve of.

Hi. It would be nice to spell out unfamiliar abbreviations. Thanks.

Integrated Waste Management Authority. Search IWMA on this site to see more.

I can’t help but laugh when someone says to “pray” for a coronavirus cure.

Similarly, I cannot help but laugh when critics of faith willingly come to God when things become truly dire in the world, or in their individual lives.

“There are no atheists in foxholes” as the expression go’s. But laugh, I would not.

John Lennon was right… “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.” So true. It seems people “come to God” when they are in pain or want something. I never saw the point in religion… If your prayer was answered, “it was Gods will” if your prayer wasn’t answered, It was also “Gods will”.

Just as you don’t see the point in religion, religious people don’t see the point in atheism. If we all exist entirely by chance, and so does COVID19, then what ultimately happens is either humankind’s will or nature’s will. In any case, this country was founded on freedom to believe or not believe in a higher power; the religious can have their way and the atheists can have their’s.

John Lennon was a wealthy and entitled drug addict. He was given a public voice not because of his experience, academic achievement or brains. Rather it was because he was a celebrity. That sucks.

Why is that sir?

Here we go again..DA trying to appease a demographic of voters while letting massive crime and corruption go unnoticed until the Feds have to get involved. And then distracting people to make it seem like they cant practice religion, which they can, fear mongering style. Yes, it’s true though, this covid response from local, state and federal gov has been a joke. Slo county is a sanctuary for corrupt politicians and contractors. That’s the only sanctuary I see here. I wish we could have solidarity on this, not politics, as we are all neighbors here, most of us want a humble life that is now out of reach in slo co due to corruption.

Everything you wrote could absolutely be a “ditto” for Sacramento, and the ones who control this whole state. Has not our hapless governor and his fellow group of far-left Progressive’s, who wallow in corruption, appease their demographic, and impose fear to try and control the masses further? Not to mention the sanctuary state when it comes to illegal immigration and the millions that it cost the legal citizens of this state.

You’re right, corruption takes all types and has no bias. Here’s the thing, I’m not placing labels on anyone to create segregate thinking among my neighbors. And our country takes in immigrants and makes them citizens, tax paying citizens. It’s what makes America beautiful.

Legal immigration is good and there is no problem with that. I come from a family of legal immigrants to this country. You want to combine illegal immigration to the mix of the ones who come legally. That’s head in the sand thinking and not facing reality. You and other’s of your ilk, demand rule of law when it’s fits your narrative, but deny it, and will not will acknowledge it or accept when it doesn’t. Pure ignorance.

You’re stereotyping and generalizing people is a systemic non neighborly problem world round.

That’s nice Dow. Now, how about the embezzlement of county funds by IWMA boss Bill Worrell? Are you letting that one go?

p.s. You can answer here, Dow.

Good one. Do tell, Dow.

Crickets… Mr. Dow? Would you rather answer publicly to an opinion piece?