SAN JOSE—The Santa Clara County Superior Court issued a temporary restraining order on Monday, November 2, prohibiting Calvary Chapel church in San Jose from holding large indoor gatherings in a manner that would violate local and state health orders. According to the District Attorney of Santa Clara, the church has been holding weekly indoor services with approximately 600 people. Under the current County Health Order, indoor gatherings for religious purposes are limited to 100 people.
The District Attorney of Santa Clara’s Public Communications Officer, Sean Webby, said “according to evidence” that is not accessible to the public, the church has been consistently holding services in which some 600 people were attending without masks or proper social distancing.
A Santa Clara County press release said court officials spent months trying to work with church representatives to get them to comply and issued fines when they refused.
“After the church made clear it had no intention of ending its dangerous conduct, the County Counsel and District Attorney jointly filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court last week and asked that the Court take immediate action to stop Calvary’s continuing violations.”
Based on papers submitted by four county counsels and three district attorneys, the Santa Clara Superior Court found that the defendant’s conduct violated State and County public health orders. According to the temporary restraining order, Calvary Chapel church’s violations “heighten the risk of transmission and community spread of COVID-19 and present a grave risk and immediate threat to public health, including the risk of serious illness or death.”
Under the order’s prohibitions, Calvary Chapel church cannot hold indoor gatherings in excess of 100 people under the first point. Under the second point, the church is prohibited from operating “whether indoors or outdoors, without the prior submission and implementation of a Social Distancing Protocol.”
Pastor Mike McClure, according to Black Christian News is facing fines of at least $350,000, as confirmed by the pastor’s secretary on the afternoon of November 4. Attorneys fighting for Pastor McClure said that the church can hold 1900 people, leaving much room for 600 congregants to worship while following local and state health guidelines.
Attorney Mariah Gondeiro argued that the church services were not crowded and that congregants had enough space to adequately self-distance:
“The church fits 1,900 people. The county makes it seem like the church services are crowded. They’re not crowded. They can fit 1900 people; 600 attend. There’s plenty of room for 600 people to attend and stay an adequate distance apart.”
While preaching a sermon on the Sunday of November 1, Pastor McClure exhorted the crowd to preach the Gospel with a love for others in the midst of the pandemic. He denied being irresponsible and said the church played vital roles in healthcare throughout US history:
“There are people who are accusing us of trying to kill people; that we don’t care about people. That is the farthest thing from the truth. The church throughout the history of America started almost all the hospitals. The church cares about the whole body. My father was a world-renown surgeon. I understand medicine and doctors. I am thankful for them”
He informed congregants about the restraining order.
“I think we are at $400,000 in fines from the health department. I don’t want to break the law, but I am called to preach the Gospel. Did you come on your own today?”
The Court shared the conviction with the County of Santa Clara that Calvary Chapel was violating County and Health State orders.
“We are satisfied by the Court’s recognition that these violations of County and State Health Officer orders pose a threat to the broader community and issued an injunction to require the implementation of public health safeguards,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams.
Williams mentioned the County’s commitment to allow churches to operate in a manner that protects the health of the community.
“The County fully supports the right to worship, and the health orders create a pathway for religious institutions to do so in a safer manner that helps protect the community’s wellbeing during a pandemic.”
The non-denominational church, located on 1175 Hillsdale Avenue was scheduled by the Court for a hearing to determine whether to maintain the restrictions on the first day of December, when the order expires.
Employees of the County of Santa Clara, the Sheriff’s Department, Department of Environmental Health, and the Planning Department are authorized under the temporary restraining order for the church to monitor and “ensure compliance” between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 8:00 p.m. any day of the week.