A California county is asking a judge to hold a church and pastor in contempt of court after the congregation met in defiance of a court order during the pandemic.
Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, Calif., met indoors Sunday despite a temporary restraining order from Superior Court Judge Matthew P. Guasco that prohibits the congregation from gathering indoors through Aug. 31. Guasco, when he issued the order, said “there is no exercise of a right unless people are alive to exercise it.”
Ventura County on Tuesday asked Superior Court Judge Vincent O'Neill Jr. to hold the church and its pastor, Rob McCoy, in contempt of court. O'Neill set a hearing for Aug. 21 on the matter, according to the Ventura County Star. O'Neill replaced Guasco on the case.
The church is allowed to hold outdoor services, but McCoy said it’s not practical with a congregation of more than 1,000 members.
“Where are we going to put 1,500 people?” he asked.
He also is afraid of meeting outside due to death threats. The county, he said, is violating the church’s guarantee of religious liberty under the First Amendment.
The church could be fined, and McCoy or members jailed.
“I wish it didn’t have to come to this,” McCoy said in a video last week. “But we will be violating the judge’s order. … We’re going to keep worshiping God. … Our community desperately needs this. It’s critical to us. We are essential.”
McCoy asked rhetorically about the county, “When is it going to stop, and how far are they allowed to go?”
McCoy said the church has received calls from the White House about the controversy. The church has not been tied to any COVID-19 cases, he said. He is a former Thousand Oaks City Council member.
Although O'Neill set a date for a hearing, he denied the county’s request to immediately take steps to close the church, the Star reported. Such steps could have involved the use of sheriff’s deputies during services. The sheriff’s office needs to be seen in a “neutral” role by the public, O’Neill said.
Photo courtesy: Godspeak Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks Facebook
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.