Calvary Chapel in San Jose, California, is facing a fine of as much as $55,000 for violating coronavirus lockdown orders by holding indoor services. This latest fine is on top of more than $700,000 in fines already imposed on the church.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan said the orders issued by the county’s health department were necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus and that the church needed to comply with the county and the court.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported on the judgment issued this week:
Calvary Chapel and its pastor, Mike McClure, were found to have defied a Nov. 2 court order that directed it to follow then-current public health regulations that limited gatherings, including religious meetings, to no more than 100 people indoors and required attendees to wear masks and practice social distancing. Churches were also required to submit plans on how they would protect members. County inspectors said they found daily violations of those requirements.
County officials said the church did little to comply with the health orders, putting its members and the community at risk of contracting the coronavirus as the number of cases in Santa Clara County surged.
“Even if you disagree with those opinions, these orders do have a purpose,” Kirwan said. “You can’t just ignore those rules and regulations nor can you ignore a court order just because you disagree with them.”
The ruling comes after the United States Supreme Court ruled on November 25 that the state of New York could not enforce a limit of 10 or 25 people at religious gatherings.
The Chronicle reported on church supporters holding a rally across the street from the Old Courthouse in San Jose. Participants waved American flags and signs that said, “Church is essential” and “Let us worship.”
“Kirwan fined Calvary Chapel $2,500 per event for violating the court order. Melissa Kiniyalocts, deputy county counsel, said the church had violated the order daily through 22 days in November, meaning the fine could go as high as $55,000,” the Chronicle reported. “Kirwan ordered Calvary Church to comply with Santa Clara County on Nov. 2 after District Attorney Jeff Rosen, County Counsel James Williams and Public Health Officer Sara Cody went to court to get the church to comply.”
Robert Tyler, an attorney for the church, argued that the court’s order and the health department’s mandates are unconstitutional based on the Supreme Court’s ruling. He said he will appeal.
“What happened today, I’ll say, it’s just a tragedy of justice, to be frank,” Tyler said after the ruling was announced.
This kind of religious persecution linked to the coronavirus is taking place in other states around the country, including at the Libertas Christian School, a pre-K through 12th-grade Christian school serving 265 students in Hudsonville, Michigan.
The school has filed a lawsuit with the U.S. District Court, Western District of Michigan, to stop threats of imprisonment and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s promise to shut down the school.
“This violates the First Amendment rights of assembly and religion for the school’s 265 students, as well as parents and staff. It is a shocking and audacious abuse of power, which started on the first day of school on September 4,” Ian Northon, special counsel for The Amistad Project of The Thomas More Society, which is representing Libertas Christian School, said. He added that it “has continued despite the unanimous ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court declaring Governor Whitmer’s related Executive Orders unlawful.” Northon further asserted, “The County’s animus toward religion in this case is clear and compelling.”
“There is no one more concerned about the students’ health and safety at Libertas Christian School than their parents and the school staff. There has not been a single positive test for COVID or any cases of symptomatic students at the school and the students are healthy and thriving,” Northon said. “The state’s actions, if allowed to prevail, will not only disrupt the children’s education and faith practice, but will do great harm to the children and others.”
PR Newswire reported on the background of the school’s lawsuit:
This summer, Libertas Christian School developed a comprehensive plan for in-person education. The plan had the widespread support of school parents, all of whom chose to send their students to the school for in-person instruction. In fact, enrollment increased by approximately 50 students this year as other parents were concerned about the welfare of their children. Parents can send their children to the school three days a week as part of a homeschool enrichment program or five days a week at their discretion, a longstanding practice at Libertas.
It went on to say, “Citing an anonymous complaint over chapel singing, and without visiting the school or exploring options for the operation of the school with the Headmaster, the County and State are demanding that Libertas cease and desist all operations, which would prevent it from performing its core mission of providing a classical, Bible-based education to its students.”
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