California pastor fighting $220K in fines for holding in-person worship services

Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against extending Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020, in San Diego, California.
Demonstrators holding signs demanding their church to reopen, protest during a rally to re-open California and against extending Stay-At-Home directives on May 1, 2020, in San Diego, California. | Sandy Huffaker/AFP via Getty Images

Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel San Jose faces a fine of at least $220,000 for holding indoor services since May 31, the day of Pentecost, thanks to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on churches during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On behalf of Tyler’s church, the Southern California-based legal group Advocates for Faith and Freedom filed a lawsuit against the fines but Santa Clara County officials haven’t sought an injunction to stop Calvary Chapel’s meetings, according to The Epoch Times.

“It’s interesting that, if the county was so truly concerned about the health and safety of individuals, and believing that the science supports their fines, then they would not only be fining the church, but they would be going to court to seek an injunction against them to prevent them from meeting,” Tyler told the Times.

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The Calvary Chapel pastor thinks county officials haven’t sought an injunction because they fear public opinion.

On why he continued to hold in-person services since May 31, Tyler said, “I just said, ‘Look, we’re caught in the middle of this political war, but it’s the people that God cares about, so we’re going to do what the Bible says and obey God rather than man. Not so much to defy the governor but to take care of the needs of the people.”

The pastor also argued that if Walmart is open because it’s considered “essential” by the county, “so is the church, but even more so because Walmart doesn’t have a First Amendment right.”

In September, Jack Trieber, pastor of North Valley Baptist Church in the same county, had to move services to the church parking lot as per local COVID-19 guidelines after fines rose to over $112,000 at the time. But the county wasn’t still willing to forgive the fines.

The 3,000-seat church was being fined $5,000 for every service indoors it held as well as fines for other violations such as singing.

The county had filed a lawsuit against the church for its ongoing violations of COVID-19 orders, according to Trieber. After prayer, fasting and counsel, the pastor said, “I have felt led of God not to resist the lawsuit.”

In Los Angeles County, Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur received threats of jail time over his church’s decision to hold indoor services last month, saying he’ll simply open a “jail ministry” should he find himself behind bars. 

MacArthur revealed to Fox News’ Laura Ingraham at the time that he had received a letter threatening up to six months in jail if he continued holding indoor worship services at his church in Sun Valley.

“Of course, my biblical hero apart from the Lord Jesus Christ is the Apostle Paul,” MacArthur said. “And when he went into a town he didn't ask what the hotel was like. He asked what the jail was like because he knew that's where he was going to spend his time.”

McClure’s congregation was one of the more than 1,000 churches across California that decided to regather for indoor services at the end of May. “These pastors are looking at this, saying, ‘We have religious liberty, we have the right to meet and what you are doing is you are preventing us from gathering together as a community of believers,” Tyler told the Times.

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