California church held in contempt for indoor services, fined $55,000
A church in California that has reportedly held worship services indoors with hundreds of attendees not wearing face masks was held in contempt of court and fined.
For months, Calvary Chapel of San Jose and its pastor, Michael McClure, have overseen worship services that were in violation of state public health restrictions on indoor gatherings.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter H. Kirwan ruled Tuesday that the church and McClure were in contempt of court and fined them for violating a Nov. 2 temporary restraining order.
The church was ordered to pay $2,500 for each time it violated the order by holding services without following public health guidelines, which reportedly will be around $55,000.
In comments made to media and a large number of supporters who gathered outside of the courthouse, McClure said that he is not inherently opposed to masks, saying, “If someone wants to wear one, wear one.”
“But I’m not a policeman, I’m a pastor,” said McClure, as quoted by NBC Bay Area. “I respect the judge. I understand what the laws are, but there’s a bigger law.
“When I have to get told, 'you got to either follow God or you follow man,' I have to follow what God's Word says.”
McClure plans to appeal the decision and will be in federal court next week on a request to have the federal government intervene on behalf of the church, reported NBC.
County of Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams, who helped file the suit against Calvary Chapel and McClure in October, said on Tuesday after the ruling that full compliance with public health orders was "vital."
“These public health orders are literally a matter of life and death; they are designed to reduce COVID-19 transmission, avoid serious illness, and save lives," Williams said. "This entity’s ongoing violations put the whole community at risk, and they won’t be tolerated.”
In May, Governor Gavin Newsom enacted restrictions on in-person gatherings with the intention of trying to curb the spread of COVID-19, which included limits on worship attendance.
However, a number of churches, including Calvary Chapel, refused to comply, arguing for the need to preach the Gospel and gather in worship. The San Jose congregation held indoor worship services with around 600 people when county restrictions limited such events to no more than 100 people.
By November, the church faced fines of approximately $350,000 for its continued violations as well as an order from the county calling on them to stop “ongoing and serious violations of the state and local public health orders.”
“County officials spent months trying to work with church officials to get them to come into compliance voluntarily and issued fines when they refused,” read the order, in part.
“After church officials made clear they had no intention of ending their dangerous conduct, the County Counsel and District Attorney filed the request for a court order."
At a gathering of pastors held in late October to support Calvary Chapel, McClure said that county officials have not been cooperative in addressing the needs of his church.
“I would love to work with the health department but they came here, got really upset and yelled at us and left, they never wanted to talk to me or work with me and I’d love to, we’re trying to help the community,” said McClure, as reported by MSN.