California Church Faces $2.8 Million in Fines for Holding In-Person Services during 2020 Lockdowns
A California church is facing about $2.8 million in fines for holding church services in 2020 during mandated COVID-19 lockdowns.
According to CBN News, Santa Clara County officials are demanding that the church pay the fines for violating Gov. Gavin Newsom's statewide order that closed businesses and churches last year.
Supporters of the church say the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in five separate cases that the government cannot treat places of worship as second-class institutions and set harsh penalties and restrictions that exceed restrictions placed on "essential" businesses.
After a Stay-at-Home-Order was issued in May, Calvary Chapel and Southridge Church of San Jose continued to hold in-person gatherings. Later that year, both churches filed federal lawsuits against California and Santa Clara County over the constitutionality of the COVID-19 pandemic orders.
The county countersued for $2.8 million in October and claimed the church was a public health hazard and "nuisance" for holding the worship services in spite of the mandate.
In December 2020, Calvary Chapel and Pastor Mike McClure were found in contempt of orders to stop holding indoor worship services. McClure said he would continue to keep the doors open. The church was fine $2,500 for every day the church held in-person gatherings. The fines eventually totaled about $55,000.
"I respect the judge and I respect what the law says," McClure said. "But there's a bigger law. I have to get told, you follow God, or you follow man. I have to follow what God's word says."
Then in February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Santa Clara County must allow indoor worship services while the court considered appeals over the COVID-19 restrictions.
"While millions of Californians regularly ignored the COVID orders—with some law enforcement officials refusing to enforce them—Plaintiffs (the church and pastor) were singled out for punishment and now face a crippling, multi-million dollar fine for exercising their constitutional right to worship," the brief said.
The Advocates for Faith & Freedom, an organization helping with the church's legal representation, says that the county is still pursuing its case against Calvary.
"The county won't let it go even though it's in their best interest to let go and move on," said Bob Tyler, founder of AFF.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Chuang Tzu Dreaming
Amanda Casanova is a writer living in Dallas, Texas. She has covered news for ChristianHeadlines.com since 2014. She has also contributed to The Houston Chronicle, U.S. News and World Report and IBelieve.com. She blogs at The Migraine Runner.