The church, Calvary Chapel in San Jose, has been cited multiple times for breaking local health rules that prohibit indoor gatherings, including for religious services. But Pastor Mike McClure has so far refused to pay the fines or shut down his weekly 700-person services.
He’s reportedly said he doesn’t even care if the violations land him in jail.
“I respect the judge and I respect what the law says,” he said in a press conference outside a court hearing earlier this month. "But there’s a bigger law. I have to get told, you follow God or you follow man. I have to follow what God’s word says."
The church is currently advertising a Christmas Eve candlelight service on its website. It is unclear how many people will attend, but the event page describes it as a “family service” and encourages worshippers to “bring the kids.” The church did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
The church has continued to host indoor services for hundreds of people—without masks or social distancing—throughout the pandemic, despite a court order to cease and a fine of $2,500 for every day it held services. A second judge ruled against the church earlier this week, holding that the state has a compelling interest in preventing the spread of the disease and telling McClure: “The constitution is not a suicide pact.”
James Williams, counsel for Santa Clara County, called the church’s actions, “shameful.”
“They are facing over a million dollars in fines, they’ve been held in contempt of court, we’ve gone back in for additional contempt proceedings not just against the church but against the specific individuals who are aiding and abetting these violations,” he told ABC 7.
Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney representing Calvary Church, told the station that churchgoers were “in their right to exercise their first amendment rights to gather and pray and celebrate Christmas.” She did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
Another California church was barred from holding services this week after a federal appeals court refused to overturn the governor’s order. Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena filed an emergency injunction to lift the restrictions for Christmas Eve, but was denied by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. District Court Judge Jesus Bernal had previously ruled against the church twice, even after the U.S. Supreme Court ordered him to revisit his decision.
California is currently the nation’s top COVID-19 hot spot, surpassing 2 million cases on Wednesday. More than 23,000 Californians have died over the course of the pandemic and 18,000 are currently hospitalized. ICUs in parts of Southern California are filled to capacity.
Newsom enacted a stay-at-home order earlier this month that limited stores to 20 percent capacity and prohibited indoor dining, along with indoor worship services. On Monday, he announced these measures would likely be extended beyond the original cutoff of Dec. 28.