Featured Image
Calvary Chapel in San Jose, CAFox and Friends/YouTube/Screenshot

SAN JOSE (LifeSiteNews) — Three years after the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, months after the end of California’s state of emergency, and just before the expiration of the national emergency declaration, a Christian church in California has been ordered to pay $1.2 million in fines for bucking local mandates by continuing to hold services in 2020 and 2021. The church plans to appeal the order.

In the Good Friday decision, California Superior Court Judge Evette Pennypacker ruled that San Jose’s Calvary Chapel must pay the fines because they refused to enforce so-called “simple, unobtrusive” mask mandates in compliance with the county’s top-down rules.

“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. Unfortunately, Defendants repeatedly refused to model, much less, enforce this gesture,” Pennypacker wrote in the 32-page ruling, despite the fact that research indicates that mask mandates did nothing to stop the spread of the coronavirus. 

READ: New York Times finally admits masks were totally useless at stopping the spread of COVID

Pennypacker accused Calvary Chapel, which reopened in May 2020 after briefly complying with local orders, of having “repeatedly flouted their refusal to comply with the Public Health Orders and urged others to do so ‘who cares what the cost,’ including death.” She insisted that the county’s orders were enforced equally throughout the country and didn’t target the church specifically.

Headed by pastor Mike McClure, Calvary began to openly defy its Silicon Valley county’s harsh lockdown rules after an initial two months of compliance, recognizing the serious spiritual needs of their congregants to return to worship and community. 

“God doesn’t want us to isolate ourselves,” McClure said in a sermon upon the church’s reopening. “All of us need to be in the sanctuary. I don’t care what they say, I’m never again going to close the doors, ever.”

The church welcomed back its members and refused to enforce the public health mandates, arguing they were unconstitutional. In consequence, the church saw not only the return of its congregation, but a substantial influx of new attendees as well.

According to a local Fox News affiliate, the judgment against the church noted that “Between May 31, 2020, and May 2021, Calvary held a pair of Sunday services with an average attendance of between 300 and 500 attendees … as well as prayer gatherings and roughly 1,000 baptism ceremonies.”

Santa Clara County responded by hitting the church with fine after fine for such violations as failure to social distance, to wear masks, and even failure to comply with the county’s rules against singing. County officials also subjected churchgoers to an intense surveillance scheme via stakeouts, cell phone monitoring, and other measures “reminiscent of totalitarian regimes,” according to a March 5 report by independent journalist David Zweig.

Citing court filings, Zweig said health officers with Santa Clara’s Business Compliance Unit took meticulous note of the churchgoers’ ordinary behavior that ran afoul of the county’s new COVID mandates, including reporting the number of cars in the parking lot, whether or not masks were being worn, and even instances of hugging.

“The declarations recounting the surveillance read like stakeout scenes from a screenplay of a police comedy — earnestness played as farce, with the officers as the classic straight man,” Zweig remarked.

READ: California county used cell phone tracking, stakeouts to monitor churchgoers during COVID lockdown: report

Calvary Chapel has been represented in its legal battles against the county by Advocates for Faith & Freedom. Last month, attorney Mariah Gondeiro argued in comments to The Free Press that while her clients were hit with hefty fines for staying open, the draconian lockdown orders weren’t enforced equally during the height of the pandemic.

“They exempted essential government entities, as well as personal care [businesses] like hair and nail salons, and entertainment studios,” Gondeiro said. “There was no singing ban on entertainment studios, so they could continue their productions.”

A county spokesperson denied the allegations, telling the outlet that the county “issued notices of violation to hundreds of entities that violated the orders, including card rooms, and virtually all of them came into compliance.”

Meanwhile, despite the subsequent lifting of all public health orders and the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2021 ruling that found that California’s ban on church assemblies during the pandemic had been unconstitutional, Santa Clara County has persisted in pursuing legal complaints against Calvary.

The latest legal battle — which came after a federal court tossed out most of Calvary’s claims in a countersuit against the county, in which they argued the rules violated their constitutional rights — has now culminated in the $1.2 million fine levied against the church earlier this month after the case was handed to the State court.

Gondeiro told San Jose Mercury News the church plans to file an appeal to reverse the April 7 ruling. 

“We look forward to establishing more precedent on appeal that will have far greater implications for the future,” she said.