The pastor of a large California church that was fined over $50,000 for holding indoor worship services despite adhering to social distancing guidelines said that even as the county continues to increase penalties, the church will remain open.
Jack Trieber, pastor of North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, California, said Tuesday that Santa Clara County posted an additional order on the church’s doors this week and is fining the congregation $5,000 for each service.
The charges include $5,000 per in-person service — Sunday morning and evening, as well as Wednesday night — and additional violations for not social distancing, although it is practiced in the auditorium that seats 3,000 people, and singing.
“They've ratcheted this thing up,” Trieber said, adding that in total, the congregation has been fined $52,750.
The order states: “If you do not immediately correct the violations, the County may take additional legal action against you, including civil or criminal prosecution, with additional resulting penalties, fees, and costs.”
“America, this is a serious moment,” Trieber said. “Government, it must stop. It cannot continue this way.”
Trieber read from the Bill of Rights: “Congress shall make no law — no law — [respecting] the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” he said.
He called the county’s actions “harassment,” warning, “If we don't stop it here ... it's going to sweep all over the United States of America. Government cannot take away our freedom. You cannot take our right to assemble.”
The pastor asked the county to remove all fines and refrain from imposing future fines on the church.
“To do this to a church ... California preachers, we have rendered unto Caesar the things that are Caesar, and we have rendered unto God through our tithes and offerings, which is His,” he said.
Addressing the county, Trieber said, “We are not closing down this church. I hope you get this message. I don't know what the consequences on your part is going to be. ... I know America does not want this to happen in her country and at this church. God bless you, America. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for your encouragement.”
Previously, county authorities posted a notice to the church door, demanding that North Valley Baptist “immediately cease” their activities and warning that “failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county.”
Claiming the congregation was not social distancing during indoor worship, the county fined the church $10,000.
In a video statement at the time, Trieber said the county’s decision to punish the church for meeting was “out of bounds.”
The pastor revealed that when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a total prohibition on religious worship services back in March, North Valley Baptist Church ceased its in-person worship services, K4 through 12 Christian school, college, bus ministry, jail ministry, public school ministry, nursing home ministry, door-to-door visitation, hospital visitation, children’s ministries and Sunday School.
“But I'm in charge of the spiritual health of the people in this city and in this area,” he said. “I've been trying to do it for 45 years. Though health is [of the] utmost importance, spiritual health is supreme. Because we've been locked out in this county of churches, suicide is up, domestic violence, addiction is up, homelessness is up, alcoholism is up. We need to get back to worshiping God. I am commanded to worship God.”
He begged Newsom to allow churches to reopen, warning that ignoring the spiritual health of the community will result in “chaos.”
In a statement, Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver called Newsom’s orders “unconstitutional” and said North Valley Baptist Church is incurring “horrendous fees for simply exercising its First Amendment right to worship.”
“Yet, Gov. Newsom supports tens of thousands of protestors, saying ‘God bless you. Keep doing it.’ This is wrong, and the governor’s unconstitutional hostility and discrimination against religious worship must end,” he said.
Other California churches have incurred penalties for meeting in-person in violation of orders from Newsom, who has mandated that churches in some counties refrain from indoor services amid the pandemic.
Last week, Los Angeles County notified Grace Community Church, led by Pastor John MacArthur, that it will soon be evicted from a parcel of land it uses as a parking lot.
Lawyers for the church say the move is retaliation for the church’s decision to hold indoor worship services.
Additionally, Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks was found to be in contempt of court for violating the state's COVID-19 health orders.