California church fined over $200,000 for defying COVID-19 restrictions has fines waived
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FIRST ON FOX – A California church that continued to hold services in defiance of county health orders it is closing during the COVID-19 pandemic has had its fines dropped after a nearly two-year battle.
“This is a significant victory for churches and pastors across the country,” Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said in a press release after the California Court of Appeals overturned a injunction against Calvary Chapel San Jose. « We are honored to represent pastors and churches who are willing to take the pressure to stand up for freedom because it benefits everyone. »
At issue was the church’s refusal to comply with Santa Clara County health officials, who obtained a temporary restraining order and injunction in November 2020 against Calvary Chapel and two pastors, Mike McClure and Carson Atherly. , after the church failed to follow pandemic health orders that included restrictions on in-person services, mask mandates and submission to the county of the church’s social distancing protocols.
County officials successfully argued that the Santa Clara County Superior Court should hold the church and its pastors in contempt and impose fines.
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But the ruling didn’t change anything for Calvary Chapel, which continued to defy the orders and injunction on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, leading the top court to hold the church and McClure again in contempt of court. and issue monetary penalties. , also adding Atherly to the order.
The challenge ultimately resulted in more than $200,000 in fines for the church, which continued to hold worship services as the monetary penalties mounted.
Calvary Chapel’s perseverance paid off. The California Court of Appeals on Monday overturned the injunction, contempt orders and fines.
« For the reasons set forth below, we conclude that temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are apparently unconstitutional in accordance with recent U.S. Supreme Court guidance regarding First Amendment protections of the free exercise of religion in the context public health orders that impact religious practice, » the court said in its ruling. « As the underlying orders that Calvary Chapel violated are void and unenforceable, we will rescind the contempt orders in their entirety and rescind orders to pay monetary penalties. »
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McClure celebrated the decision, saying the county’s ordinances represented an « intrusion » on the church’s religious freedom.
« I thank God that our actions were vindicated by the Court of Appeals, » McClure said in the statement. « We are here to help the injured, save the lost and worship God without government intrusion. »
However, the church’s legal battle did not end with the case. Santa Clara County is still trying to enforce $2.8 million in fines it unilaterally imposed on Calvary Chapel for violating county health orders. This case is currently making its way through the federal court system.
“The state Court of Appeals decision should prefigure the expected outcome in federal court,” attorney Mariah Gondeiro said in the press release. « We expect a complete victory at the end. »