California health officials shut down a pre-school for 3- to 5-year-olds at Foothills Christian Church in El Cajon and its director’s license to work with children was suspended “forever,” in what families, the church pastors and local politicians are calling “harassment” and “intimidation” by the state.

According to David Hoffman, the senior pastor at Foothills, state health representatives visited the church’s facilities 11 times in the last several months after a single complaint from a parent that not all of the children were wearing masks in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 mandate.

“Several months ago, this church, this preschool became a target by the Department of Social Services,” Pastor Hoffman said at a public protest at the church on January 7. “Basically, what it boils down to is they were not happy with how many of our children did not have masks on. They came here, they visited. They found a few other violations, which our director rectified in 24 hours. But the state kept coming back, 11 times. … Seven of those times were from 9 a.m. in the morning to 6 p.m. that night.”

The state officials also interviewed several of the children without their parents’ permission.

One of the alleged violations the church was cited for involved a teacher who used a Clorox wipe to wipe down a table but forgot to lock the cabinet the wipe came from.

“Now you have all these families that don’t have anywhere to take their kids,” Hoffman said.

State Senator Brian Jones and El Cajon’s mayor, Bill Wells, also spoke at the protest in support of the church. During his remarks, Jones spoke directly to the suspended director, Tiffany McHugh.

“Tiffany, what they have done to you is wrong,” Jones said to applause. “I believe it is unconstitutional and it violates every founding principle of this country and even this state. All these people are here for you. They support you and they trust you.” 

The church and pre-school director have filed an appeal and a hearing has been scheduled for Friday, January 14.

California health officials came under fire in 2020 for their onerous restrictions on churches due to COVID-19, including prohibitions against in-person worship and other assemblies. Many of those restrictions were found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in a series of legal cases, resulting in large damage settlements in favor of the churches affected.

Targeting churches over Clorox wipes and face masks for 3-year-olds smacks of bad faith and religious hostility. We’ll keep you apprised of developments in this situation as the church moves forward in its effort to seek relief against the state.

Photo from Shutterstock.