California Court Orders Church To Pay $1.2 Million For Violating COVID Lockdown

A California judge ordered a San Jose church Wednesday night to pay $1.2 million for violating mask and social distancing mandates during COVID-19.

Rejecting the church’s constitutional claims, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker wrote in an April 7 order that the fines are “solely the result 0f Defendants’ own egregious conduct.” The ruling is the latest in the county’s relentless effort to enforce restrictions against Calvary Chapel San Jose, which included using surveillance techniques like geo-tracking through tracking phone location data and stakeouts at church gatherings.

“It should appear clear t0 all—regardless of religious affiliation—that wearing a mask while worshiping one’s god and communing with other congregants is a simple, unobtrusive, giving way to protect others while still exercising your right t0 religious freedom,” Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker wrote. “Unfortunately, Defendants repeatedly refused t0 model, much less, enforce this gesture.”

Calvary Chapel San Jose resumed in-person services without masks or social distancing on May 31, 2020 after pausing physical gatherings in March 2020.

Though the county sought $2.8 million, the court ordered the church pay $1.2 million.

“We believe Judge Pennypacker’s decision to enforce $1.2 million in fines violates the United States Constitution,” said Mariah Gondeiro, Vice President of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, the law firm representing the church. “We have already prevailed twice on appeal in this case, and we believe we will successfully overturn these illegal fines.”

In August 2022, California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed a lower court ruling ordering the church to pay $200,000 in contempt of court fines based on the Supreme Court’s decision that Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s ban on indoor worship services was a violation of religious freedom.

“This case will not likely end until the U.S. Supreme Court rebukes Santa Clara County again,” says Robert Tyler, President of Advocates for Faith and Freedom, in a statement. “The opinion is very deficient in its analysis and provides for an excellent appeal.”

The church intends to appeal the decision to California’s Sixth District Court of Appeal, according to a press release.

Calvary Chapel San Jose did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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