‘Unconstitutional’: California court rules against sanctions on church that defied COVID lockdowns

by Seth Udinski

Seth Udinski, FISM News

 

In a win for religious freedom, the Calvary Chapel congregation in San Jose, California, was granted a reprieve from fines levied against them by the Santa Clara County Superior Court for defying California’s COVID mandates. The local government had targeted lead pastor Mike McClure and the church for continuing to meet in person for Sunday worship during the state’s strict pandemic lockdowns.

The county of Santa Clara issued fines against the church in 2020 and 2021, but the church continued to meet in public to worship and refused to pay the fees. At the request of County officials, the Santa Clara County Superior Court held the church in contempt and levied fines of more than $200,000, in addition to the $2.87 million in fines Santa Clara County is still seeking from the church.

On Monday, the 6th District Court of Appeals in California upended the lower court’s decision. It ruled in favor of the church and reversed the injunction, the contempt orders, and the $200,000 in monetary sanctions. The court agreed that the draconian bans on indoor houses of worship in the state, propagated by California Governor Gavin Newsom, were unconstitutional for violating citizens’ rights to religious freedom.

The ruling stated, in part,

For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional pursuant to the recent guidance of the United States Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice. As the underlying orders which Calvary Chapel violated are void and unenforceable, we will annul the orders of contempt in their entirety and reverse the orders to pay monetary sanctions.

 

Pastor Mike McClure responded to the victory.

“I thank God that our actions have been justified by the Court of Appeal. We are here to help the hurting, save the lost, and worship God without governmental intrusion,” McClure said.

In an interview with Fox News, McClure said that it was a win for the First Amendment and that he will continue to follow after the biblical mandate to “render to Caeser the things that are is Caesars.” He then added that “in America, we should also render to the Constitution the things of the Constitution.”

Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, celebrated the win in a statement, saying

This is a significant victory for churches and pastors across this country. We are honored to represent pastors and churches who are willing to take the heat in defense of liberty because it benefits everyone.

 

The fight is still not over for the church and its pastors, however, as the County of Santa Clara continues to seek to enforce approximately $2.8 million in fines that it unilaterally levied against the church for defying the county health orders, according to a press release. That portion of the case “continues to be litigated in federal court.”

Throughout the pandemic, multiple pastors were targeted for continuing to hold services despite lockdown measures. Many cited the biblical call to physically gather with other believers and the spiritual needs of their congregation as reasons that they defied the orders.

Roughly one year ago, Pastor John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church received $800,000 in damages from its fight with the state of California and Los Angeles County.

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