SJ Church Faces $350K Fine, Court Order After Hosting Weekly Indoor Services

Group representing Calvary Chapel says state, county orders violate religious rights

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A San Jose church has continuously defied COVID-19 public health orders limiting indoor services, and now the county is taking legal action to put a stop to it, officials said Friday.

The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office and County Counsel this week requested a court order directing Calvary Chapel in San Jose to stop holding weekly indoor services in violation of state and local public health orders, according to county officials.

The county also has levied about $350,000 in fines against the church for such violations.

The church's weekly services have hosted up to 600 people without masks or social distancing, officials said. Under public health orders, indoor gatherings for religious or other purposes are capped at 100 people, masks must be worn, and social distancing requirements must be followed.

Pastor Mike McClure and a group representing the church gathered Friday in protest of the county's actions, saying the public health order violates religious and constitutional rights. The group also said multiple pastors have been threatened with jail time.

County officials said they have tried work with church officials to get them to come into compliance voluntarily and issued fines when they refused. The fines reportedly have yet to be paid.

After the church repeatedly showed it had no intention of complying, the County Counsel and DA then filed the request for a court order.

After other incidents in which church services and large gatherings without social distancing and masks have caused super-spreader events, county officials have been acting to prevent more large outbreaks, the county said.

"Santa Clara County is one of the safest regions in the country because of our Public Health Officer’s thoughtful, science-based approach, and because our residents have carefully complied with public health requirements," county Counsel James R. Williams said. "To keep our residents safe, and to allow schools, churches, and businesses to reopen and stay open, we need everyone to do their part. We cannot allow any organization in our community to willfully and repeatedly violate these orders, while everyone else, including other churches and religious organizations in the county, are complying."

In September, the North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara was fined more than $50,000 for holding weekly indoor services in violation of public health orders.

A hearing in the Calvary Church case is scheduled for Monday.

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