California pastor faces jail time for defying restraining order, holding in-person worship service
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NEWBURY PARK, California, August 11, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – A pastor and churchgoers of a megachurch in California are facing a contempt of court charge and possible fines and jail time after defying a coronavirus-based restraining order and holding in-person worship services with thousands of worshipers in attendance.
Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park is now facing a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, where “the county will ask the Ventura County Superior Court to hold the contempt hearing on Friday,” according to the Ventura County Star.
Failing to obey a court’s restraining order technically amounts to contempt of court and could be sanctioned with fines or even jail time.
“The county is also seeking a court order to beef up its temporary restraining order to allow Ventura County sheriff’s deputies to enter (Pastor Rob) McCoy’s Godspeak Calvary Chapel and ‘immediately take all actions reasonable and necessary to close the property to prevent any further indoor worship services … until further order of court,’” the Ventura County Star reported.
Liberty Counsel, a law firm defending religious freedom, recounted that “Superior Court Judge Matthew Guasco issued a temporary restraining order last Friday to McCoy, the Church, and Does 1-1000, along with anyone ‘acting in concert with them’ who might attend worship in the future.”
The reference to “Does 1-1000” simply means that the first 1,000 people to show up at the church were supposed to be cited.
In his sermon, McCoy said, “And the powers that were given this nation were the first three words of the preamble of that Constitution, ‘We the People.’ And you have freedom to worship your God. It’s between you and Him and you’re accountable to God. And no man is allowed to take that.”
Mat Staver, founder of Liberty Counsel, which does not represent Godspeak Calvary Chapel in court, explained, “The First Amendment draws a red line that the state may not cross. That red line has been crossed by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s no worship orders. Gov. Newsom has clearly favored some speech, like the current wave of protests, while disfavoring religious speech. This, he cannot do.”
Amid a surge in new cases of COVID-19, Democrat Gov. Gavin Newsom in July had once again banned worship services inside churches in dozens of counties. During a press conference, he even hinted that some of the new restrictions might stay in place until a vaccine is developed.
“We’re seeing an increase in the spread of the virus, so that’s why it’s incumbent upon all of us to recognize soberly that COVID-19 is not going away any time soon until there is a vaccine or an effective therapy,” he said.
Newsom ordered all counties in California to close indoor operations for dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, zoos, museums, as well as places like bowling alleys. “Additionally, bars, brewpubs, breweries, and pubs must close all operations both indoor and outdoor statewide, unless they are offering sit-down, outdoor dine-in meals. Alcohol can only be sold in the same transaction as a meal.”
Counties on what is called the County Monitoring List are required to stop indoor worship services. Currently, more than 35 counties are on that list, including Ventura County, where Godspeak Calvary Chapel is located.
California has a population of almost 40 million. Less than 11,000 people have died of COVID-19 since the outbreak. Seventy-five percent of deaths were people 65 years and older.
In Ventura County itself, with a population of roughly 850,000, less than 9,000 total cases were reported since the outbreak. Only 92 people officially died from the coronavirus, which is far less than one person per day. Still, worship services are prohibited.
In May, the U.S. Supreme Court had rejected a California church’s request to block the Golden State from limiting the number of people attending religious services.
Chief Justice John Roberts, appointed by Republican President George W. Bush, sided with the liberals and explained, “Although California’s guidelines place restrictions on places of worship, those restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.”
“Similar or more severe restrictions apply to comparable secular gatherings, including lectures, concerts, movie showings, spectator sports, and theatrical performances, where large groups of people gather in close proximity for extended periods of time,” he added.
Roberts did not take into account that the First Amendment does not specifically protect concerts or spectator sports, but the “free exercise” of religion.
LifeSiteNews’ Jim Hale filed a video report of his travels to another Christian church in southern California that held in-person worship services in spite of the governor’s orders.
Members of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills have signed a petition to “recall” Newsom from office because of his pro-abortion, anti-religious liberty policies. In a “recall election,” voters remove an elected official from office through a direct vote before that official's term has ended.