Calvary Chapel in San Jose faces lawsuit, $350K fines for indoor services
Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel San Jose, who is facing fines of at least $350,000 and now a lawsuit for holding indoor services since May 31 in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, says he’s “called to preach the Gospel.”
Acknowledging the fines and legal challenge, McClure told his congregation on Sunday, “There are people who are accusing us that we are trying to kill people, that we don’t care about people. That’s the farthest thing from the truth.”
About 600 people have been attending services in a space that has the capacity to hold 1,900 people, while the county limits indoor gatherings to 100 people.
The church, McClure said, “cares about the whole body.” The pastor said he was not forcing anyone to come to church in person. “I don’t want to break the law but … I’m called to preach the Gospel,” he explained to applause from the congregation.
He said there could be a restraining order against the church by the following Sunday and that when congregants come, “you may be breaking the court order and they may arrest you, or give you a fine, or a citation.”
Last week, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and County Counsel jointly filed an action in Superior Court, requesting a court order directing McClure’s church 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,” the public health department claimed in a statement. “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. The Superior Court has scheduled a hearing in the case for Monday, November 2, 2020.”
Pastor McClure denied that any conversation took place between his church and the county.
“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,” McClure said at a gathering of pastors held Friday to support Calvary Chapel, according to MSN News.
“Santa Clara County is one of the safest regions in the country because of our Public Health Officer’s thoughtful, science-based approach, and because our residents have carefully complied with public health requirements,” County Counsel James R. Williams said, according to NBC Bay Area. “To keep our residents safe, and to allow schools, churches, and businesses to reopen and stay open, we need everyone to do their part. We cannot allow any organization in our community to willfully and repeatedly violate these orders, while everyone else, including other churches and religious organizations in the county, are complying.”
However, Mariah Gondeiro, the lawyer representing Calvary Chapel, told the gathering on Friday, “Over the past five months, not one person has contracted COVID-19, they have contributed zero to the infection rate of this county.”
Pastor Jim Domen from Church United said, “People are in crisis up and down the state, the mental health statistics are through the roof and the government wants close churches across the state.”
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.