California Church Prepares to Face 1,000 Misdemeanor Citations for Worshipping During Lockdown

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On Sunday, Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, will hold an in-person indoor church service in violation of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s (D-Calif.) coronavirus order and in violation of a local court’s temporary restraining order. In a video message to parishioners, McCoy encouraged church members to attend the service, warning that the first one thousand will likely “win a prize” — a misdemeanor citation that will go on their records.

“I wish it didn’t have to come to this, I really do, but we will be violating the judge’s order,” McCoy announced. “We will be open this Sunday.”

Judge Matthew P. Guasco issued the temporary restraining order on Friday, prohibiting Godspeak and McCoy from offering indoor services at the church in Newbury Park, a suburb of Los Angeles, Calif. The restraining order lasts until an August 31 hearing when the court will determine whether to replace the temporary order with a preliminary injunction. Government officials sued the church and McCoy for violating coronavirus orders.

The church’s board of elders voted unanimously to continue worship in violation of the order.

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“Come to church, and if you’re one of the first thousand, you win a prize. You will get a citation. It will be a misdemeanor,” McCoy warned. “It’ll go on your record; be mindful of that.”

While the court order allows the church to hold services outdoors, McCoy insisted that was not an acceptable solution. He said that there is no close public park large enough to accommodate 1,500 people, that members of the congregation have received death threats so he would rather worship in the church for safety reasons, and that one of the church’s staff members is allergic to sunlight.

“We want to worship God,” McCoy explained.

Many churches in California are fighting back after Newsom’s recent coronavirus orders. The governor first banned singing in indoor religious services and then banned them altogether amid rising coronavirus cases in the state. Grace Community Church and its pastor, John MacArthur, have retained one of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense lawyers in response to a cease-and-desist letter threatening fines and jail time.

Newsom has reportedly threatened to cut off power to any church that continues to meet in-person. Yet he is facing a large movement of civil disobedience. A network of California churches sued him last month and many churches throughout the state have vowed to hold in-person worship services despite the state ban on gatherings.

Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts recently sided with the liberals and upheld the State of Nevada’s coronavirus restrictions allowing casinos to remain open while shuttering churches. Justices Neil Gorsuch and Samuel Alito shredded that decision in powerful dissents, but it remains to be seen whether or not Roberts would reconsider this position in a somewhat similar case.

Religious freedom is a core American principle, and Americans are standing up to defend it. Rabbi Michael Barclay, spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village, Calif., and a friend of Rob McCoy, has called on all Americans of faith to support McCoy’s religious freedom. This battle is about more than just one church in California — it is about the principle that the government cannot prevent Americans from coming together to worship God.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.

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