The city of Pasadena, Calif., is threatening a local church with fines, jail and even closure for violating government restrictions prohibiting indoor worship services.
The congregation, Harvest Church, filed a lawsuit in July against the state of California over the restrictions and has continued to meet indoors. The suit said the attendees are required to wear masks and that seats are configured so people are socially distanced. Temperatures also are taken when individuals enter the building, according to the suit.
Last week, Pasadena’s chief assistant city prosecutor sent Harvest Church Pastor Che Ahn a letter, threatening fines and up to one year in jail for anyone who attends a future service. The letter also threatens “potential closure of your Church.”
Churches in most of California are permitted only to meet outdoors, provided they social distance.
“We have information that your Church was conducting live indoor church services at the location where anywhere from 50 to 100 people or more attended,” the letter, dated Aug. 13, reads. “It was also noted that the people who attended the services, as well as church staff, were not complying with the relevant governmental orders concerning social distancing or the wearing of protective masks. All of these are violations of the law.
“... This letter is to remind you that violations of these orders are criminal in nature. Each day in violation is a separate violation and carries with it a potential punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation. More importantly, these violations subject your parishioners, staff and the public at large to potential exposure to this lethal disease. Your compliance with these Orders is not discretionary, it is mandatory. Any violations in the future will subject your church, owners, administrators, operators, staff, and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the potential closure of your Church.”
Liberty Counsel, which is representing the church, says the restrictions by the state and the city violate the congregation’s constitutionally protected freedoms of religion, speech and assembly.
“The City of Pasadena, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, encourages thousands of people to gather for mass protests, but now consider in-person worship to be a criminal offense,” said Liberty Counsel founder and Chairman Mat Staver. “These actions of the City of Pasadena and Gov. Gavin Newsom are akin to repressive foreign regimes, not America where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. The First Amendment erects a wall which the state may not breach to close churches and incarcerate pastors and parishioners.”
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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.