Churches in California have repeatedly been under attack for exercising their First Amendment rights by gathering to pray and worship. Now they are facing fines for singing together.
Liberty Counsel, a Christian religious rights law firm, reported that Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Thousand Oaks was found to be in contempt of court last Friday for violating the state's COVID-19 health orders.
Gov. Gavin Newsom's orders prohibit all in-person worship, including home Bible studies and fellowship.
Pastor Rob McCoy received a temporary restraining order on Aug. 7, banning all indoor worship services. The congregation continued to gather, leading to fines totaling $3,000.
"I'm not being disobedient; I'm being obedient," McCoy told his congregants on August 9. "God called us to open, and we opened on Pentecost, May 31, and we haven't closed since."
"It's unjust. We answer to a higher calling," said parishioner Kim Bengard. "We have a First Amendment right to liberty and to freedom and to meet and congregate. I think we're obedient to God first and we will submit and pay the fine and we will fight it all the way."
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent a supportive tweet, letting Pastor McCoy know that he stands behind him.
"Are you willing to go to jail for the Constitution? Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Church is! Tomorrow morning, he'll stand before a CA judge who's holding Rob in contempt. Thx for standing up for the flock and We the People! The bullies won't win. We are with you, Pastor."
Are you willing to go to jail for the Constitution? Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Church is! Tomorrow morning, he’ll stand before a CA judge who’s holding Rob in contempt. Thx for standing up for the flock and We the People! The bullies won’t win. We are with you, Pastor.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) August 20, 2020
A full hearing is scheduled for August 31.
Another church has also been fined. North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara is being punished for holding worship services, even though churchgoers adhered to the social distancing guidelines. The house of worship was even served a citation for singing.
The county placed a four-page letter on the front door of the church, indicating that singing at church services was "unlawful."
"North Valley Baptist is failing to prevent those attending, performing and speaking at North Valley Baptist's services from singing," the letter reads. "This activity is unlawful. The county understands that singing is an intimate and meaningful component of religious worship."
"However, public health experts have also determined that singing together in close proximity and without face coverings transmits virus particles further in the air than breathing or speaking quietly. The county demands that North Valley Baptist immediately cease the activities listed above and fully comply with the Risk Reduction Order, the Gatherings Directive, the State July 13 Order, and the State guidance. Failure to do so will result in enforcement action by the county," the notice concludes.
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North Valley Pastor Jack Trieber declared that churches have a fundamental right to worship together.
"You can't have any law against assembling in God's house. None," he said. "I know we have a Constitutional right to worship, but we have a Higher Power that we answer to. I have a biblical mandate. We have obeyed authority in this church. We've always obeyed authority. But when local authority begins to disregard this authority, we go with this book right here," he added while holding a Bible.
Bryon Foxx, who supports Pastor Trieber tweeted, "Pray for North Valley Baptist Church, Pastor Jack Trieber, Santa Clara, CA. The actual cease and desist letter was posted to their doors. I fully support Pastor Trieber as he plans to conduct services tomorrow. 'We ought to obey God, rather than men (Acts 5:29)'."
Pray for North Valley Baptist Church, Pastor Jack Trieber, Santa Clara, CA.
The actual cease and desist letter was posted to their doors.
I fully support Pastor Trieber as he plans to conduct services tomorrow.
“We ought to obey God, rather than men” (Acts 5:29) pic.twitter.com/2DgabchKXa
— ByronFoxx (@EvangelistFoxx) August 23, 2020
And authorities in Sun Valley are attempting for the fourth time to obtain a court order that will close Pastor John MacArthur's Grace Community Church.
MacArthur, in his declaration released on Monday, argued the county is attempting to impede on his congregation's "free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith."
County health officials said the church has repeatedly violated public health and court orders needed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Several weeks ago, MacArthur highlighted a double standard that has seen massive social justice protests but has continued to restrict religious gatherings. Half-jokingly, he opened up a recent sermon by saying, "Good morning, everyone. I'm so happy to welcome you to the Grace Community Church peaceful protest."
Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, "The same governor who encourages mass protests, bans all worship and is now fining churches for their right to assemble and worship. The same governor who says the church can meet for secular services bans the church from having religious worship. This unconstitutional hostility against religious worship must end."