January 23, 2021

Santa Clara County court orders church to stop large indoor gatherings

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Santa Clara County Superior Court has granted a temporary restraining order against a San Jose church, ordering it to stop hosting large indoor services after months of violations that prompted the county to file an injunction last week.

During a Monday hearing, the court agreed that Calvary Chapel San Jose’s actions “pose a threat to the broader community” and ordered that the church must adhere to the same rules as other organizations, county officials said in an update.

“We are satisfied by the Court’s recognition,” County Counsel James Williams said in a statement. “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.”

Another court hearing regarding the case is scheduled for Dec. 1.

The county filed for an injunction last Tuesday against the church, located on Hillsdale Avenue in the Willow Glen area, arguing that it had not only broken social distancing and masking protocols by hosting indoor services with hundreds of people, but “trumpeted” its noncompliance with live-streams and refused to pay more than $350,000 in accruing fines.

Starting in May, the county said in its complaint, the church began welcoming up to 600 people inside for services sans masks despite shelter-in-place rules. Church leadership — including defendant and Pastor Mike McClure — were emboldened in part by comments from President Donald Trump deeming places of worship “essential,” this news organization reported at the time.

Despite an August cease-and-desist letter and intensifying fines, the church failed to submit a social distancing protocol or stop hosting the indoor services, the county said — leading it to file the injunction the court has now granted.

The church has maintained that the county has unfairly targeted places of worship and that its services have not been linked to any outbreaks. In a legal filing opposing the order last week, the defendants called the county’s position “pure fearmongering” and claim that it violates worshipers’ First Amendment rights.

Church leadership and Santa Clara County officials could not immediately be reached for further comment.

Calvary Chapel is the first church Santa Clara County has sued over alleged violations of the health order. Last month, another South Bay church, North Valley Baptist in Santa Clara, finally backed down and began hosting outdoor services after the county threatened leaders with an injunction.

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Author: Fiona Kelliher

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