Sunday 16 April 2023

‘Outrageous’: California Church Ordered To Pay Over A Million Dollars In COVID Fines

 A California church has been ordered to pay over $1 million in COVID fines after the church did not enforce a county’s social distancing and masking requirements. 

Superior Court Judge Evette Pennypacker ordered Calvary Chapel San Jose to pay $1.2 million in fines after it did not follow COVID restrictions put in place by Santa Clara County, requirements the church said violated their religious freedom. 

“It should appear clear to all — regardless of religious affiliation — that wearing a mask while worshiping one’s god and communing with other congregants is a simple, unobtrusive, giving way to protect others while still exercising your right to religious freedom,” Pennypacker wrote. “Unfortunately, Defendants repeatedly refused to model, much less, enforce this gesture. Instead, they repeatedly flouted their refusal to comply with the Public Health Orders and urged others to do so ‘who cares what the cost,’ including death.”

The church will appeal the ruling, according to church attorney Mariah Gondeiro. “We look forward to establishing more precedent on appeal that will have far greater implications for the future,” she said. 

The Daily Wire reached out to the church for further comment. 

The ruling is the latest in the battle between the county and the church, which began after the church was given fines beginning in November 2020 and up to June 2021 when it did not follow the county’s restrictions and it challenged the rules in federal court. The church faces fines over masks, social distancing, and hosting large gatherings. 

“I think about our government’s infringement on our liberties,”said Senior Pastor Mike McClure  on January 10, 2021. “We were played. This whole thing, it’s a lie. I mean, not that it’s not a disease. But they’re using it to take control and to stop you and I from worshiping God.”

The county claimed that the orders were aimed at public health, and not targeting religious institutions. “It’s the County’s job to take care of its residents and protect the public health,” Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams said. “Calvary’s arguments have been rejected at almost every turn. We are gratified that the Court once again saw through Calvary’s unsupported claims and found them meritless.”

According to court documents, the county may have violated civil liberties by monitoring the cell phone usage of congregants at the large, non-denominational evangelical church. The Mercury News reported that the county used “geofencing” in an attempt to see how many people were at various church services. 

“It is unconscionable how much time and money this county has spent surveilling and targeting this church when they should be focused on rebuilding the community,” Gondeiro said. 

The county also sent observers to or around the church about 44 times during the dispute from August 2020 to January 2021, according to court documents. This cost the city about $219 per hour.

Jay Bhattacharya, a medical professor at Stanford, said that the ruling was “outrageous.” “Throughout the pandemic, California state courts have flouted the 1st amendment right to freedom of worship, & ignored evidence-based medicine. This punitive ruling is outrageous, which the church will certainly appeal. May a wiser judge be found,” he said.

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