A California judge has ordered Calvary Chapel in San Jose, Calif., to stop holding indoor worship services. The decision comes less than a week after the county sought a restraining order against the church for violating state and local coronavirus lockdown orders. Officials have levied fines of more than $350,000 against the church and threatened Pastor Mike McClure with jail time.
“The Court agreed with the County that Calvary’s manner of hosting indoor gatherings poses a threat of a large outbreak, and it explained that Calvary must comply with the same set of rules that apply to the rest of the community,” Santa Clara County officials said in a statement.
Despite the fines and threats, McClure has held indoor church services every week since May 31 “for anyone who wants to attend” because he “is called to preach the Gospel.”
Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney representing both McClure and Calvary Chapel, said the ruling was disappointing and that shutting down Sunday services is unnecessary. “The reality is, the church has not experienced one known COVID-19 case,” she said. “Pastor Mike McClure’s church has been a refuge for so many hurting people suffering from anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide.”
Calvary Chapel is yet another church that finds itself at odds with the government over COVID restrictions. Thousands of churches have held services in defiance of public health orders.
Like many pastors across the country, McClure is concerned about the spiritual and emotional well-being of his congregation and all who are going through this difficult time.
At a press conference held in support of McClure and Calvary Chapel on Monday, Neil Mammen, an ordained pastor and president of the Values Advocacy Council, blasted the judge’s ruling and stated that the ongoing lockdown of churches and society is inflicting severe and long-term harm on society.
“If the supervisors of Santa Clara really care about life, if the Health Department really cares about life, if Governor Newsom really cares about life, they will let the most powerful agent of life do what they have always done: minister to the poor, minister to the suffering, minister to the sick, and minister to the lonely,” he stated. “If you care about life, open up our churches!”
Other area pastors are also supporting McClure, including Jim Domen, pastor of Church United, who noted, “People are in crisis up and down the state. The mental health statistics are through the roof and the government wants to close churches across the state.”
Santa Clara County has limited indoor gatherings, including religious services, to 25 percent of capacity or 100 people, whichever is less. Officials also mandate that everyone attending such gatherings must wear face coverings and social distancing.
“The county makes it seem like these church services are crowded,” said Gondeiro. They’re not crowded. They can fit 1900 people, 600 people attend – there’s plenty of room for 600 people to attend and stay an adequate distance apart.”
She also explained at a press conference: “We are not against wearing masks, we are not against social distancing. What we are for is freedom, and we want to make sure that these churches can gather and help those who are suffering.”
Santa Clara County officials insist that they have attempted to help the church worship while obeying orders. “We tried to work with them for a long time,” said James Williams, Santa Clara County counsel. “They’ve admitted to the violations and so we are seeking the help of the court in enforcing these really important orders. The reality is, almost every congregation, regardless of faith tradition has been safely in compliance with the public health directives.”
Santa Clara County said that the church had been given 10 notices regarding the violations and suggested how to worship while obeying the orders.
Another hearing will be held on Dec. 1, 2020, to decide whether or not to continue the restrictions outlined in the temporary restraining order.