In a great victory for the freedom of religion, a California church that was fined $200K for violating county health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic has had the charges against it dropped.
In 2020, Calvary Chapel San Jose was ordered by officials in Santa Clara County to restrict in-person worship services and enforce mask mandates and social distancing dictates, Fox News recounts.
After the church refused to follow those requirements, the county obtained a temporary restraining order and injunction against the church, and its two pastors, Mike McClure and Carson Atherly.
Then, the county convinced the Santa Clara County Superior Court in November 2020 to hold the church and its pastors in contempt of court – and impose fines.
But on Monday, the California Court of Appeal reversed the injunction, contempt orders, and fines based on recent rulings from the U.S. Supreme Court that decided that “regulations cannot be viewed as neutral … [if the government] singles out houses of worship for especially harsh treatment.”
When those regulations are not neutral, they violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
In the ruling, the court said, “We conclude that the temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional pursuant to the recent guidance of the United States Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice.”
“As the underlying orders which Calvary Chapel violated are void and unenforceable, we will annul the orders of contempt in their entirety and reverse the orders to pay monetary sanctions.”
“This is a significant victory for churches and pastors across this country,” said Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith & Freedom (AFF), in a press release.
“We are honored to represent pastors and churches who are willing to take the heat in defense of liberty because it benefits everyone.”
There have been numerous instances of churches winning legal battles with government authorities who, during the COVID-19 pandemic, frequently treated liquor stores, pot shops and shopping stores more favorably than churches.
In 2020, California created some of the nation’s most stringent COVID-19 restrictions. For example, the state had implemented a near-total ban on in-person worship services.
Pastor McClure, in a press release, celebrated the legal victory.
“I thank God that our actions have been justified by the Court of Appeal. We are here to help the hurting, save the lost, and worship God without governmental intrusion,” McClure said.
But Calvary Chapel isn’t out of the woods yet.
Fox News notes that Santa Clara County is still defending an additionally $2.8 million in fines against the church in a federal court.
“The state Court of Appeal ruling should foreshadow the expected outcome in federal court,” said AFF attorney Mariah Gondeiro. “We expect complete victory in the end.”
Photo from YouTube.