A California county government is suing a prominent San Jose church, seeking a court injunction that would prevent the pastor and members from worshiping indoors in violation of Covid-19 health restrictions.
Santa Clara County filed the suit Oct. 27 against Calvary Chapel San Jose, which the county says has “chosen to flagrantly and repeatedly violate” health orders “by conducting indoor services for hundreds of people who are gathering close together” without “wearing face coverings.” The congregation also has engaged in illegal “activities such as singing indoors – all of which public health professionals have established pose significant risk of COVID-19 transmission and infection.”
Under the county’s current health restrictions, houses of worship are limited to 100 individuals or 25 percent of capacity, whichever is fewer, provided face coverings are worn and social distancing is followed. Singing is not allowed. Prior to Oct. 14, indoor gatherings were prohibited altogether.
Calvary Chapel has tallied more than $350,000 in fines for non-compliance.
The church’s action “poses an ongoing and immediate risk of irreparable harm to the public health and safety” of citizens in the county and across California, the suit says.
“Large indoor gatherings substantially increase the risk of further community spread of COVID-19, including hospitalizations and death,” the suit says.
Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen said in a press release “that virtually all religious congregations in the county have adapted their services to not risk the safety of their congregants or the community.” The same press release said the church’s indoor services have involved about 600 people.
A court hearing was scheduled for Monday.
The church’s pastor, Mike McClure, said Sunday the congregation is not endangering lives. Placing restrictions on churches, he said, harms public health.
“There are people that are accusing us that we're trying to kill people – that we don't care about people [but] ... that's the farthest thing from the truth. The church, throughout the history of America, has started most all the hospitals,” he told church members Sunday. “The church cares about the whole body. … I don't want to break the law, but ... I'm called to preach the gospel.”
“... They want to negotiate, and I told them I don't want to negotiate until you give us some numbers to prove that you really care about people's health,” he added. “... What's the suicide rate? How many people are on medication because of anxiety and depression because of the lockdowns that they're forcing? So that's my question to them and I hope they give those answers.”
There have been no outbreaks at the church, the pastor said.
“Just so you know we haven't had anyone get sick, no one's gone to the hospital and nobody's died here,” McClure said. “And if we have people sick and dying then we wouldn't be doing what we're doing, but we haven't had that.”
McClure also warned the congregation of what might happen next weekend.
“We have a court hearing, that's gonna, I guess, put a restraining order against all those that will be coming to church next Sunday,” he said. “So I forewarn you: If you come, you may be breaking a court order. They may arrest you, they may give you a fine or a citation – I don't know what they're going to do.”
A survey by LifeWay Research in July showed that 76 percent of churches that were meeting were practicing social distancing by closing off seats.
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Matthew Starling
If you are concerned that the government is giving churches and bible studies LESS FREEDOM than other similar-in-nature non-religious activities then your support is needed to defend the church and religious freedom. Find out how you can join with Alliance Defending Freedom to protect your religious freedom.
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.