The Santa Clara County district attorney and county counsel filed a legal action Thursday asking a state court to compel a San Jose church to comply with public health orders, alleging it’s been holding indoor services with up to 600 people and without mandatory masks and social distancing.
Calvary Chapel has been holding weekly services for months despite repeated warnings and $350,000 in fines from the county and discussions between church leaders and county officials, according to the district attorney’s office.
Church officials made clear their intent to keep holding the religious gatherings, prompting the county to go to court on Monday. The county’s complaint also names Pastor Mike McClure.
“The obligation to preserve and protect life is at the heart of all major faiths,” said Jeff Rosen, Santa Clara County’s district attorney. “We are grateful that virtually all religious congregations in the county have adapted their services to not risk the safety of their congregants or the community. All of us are making difficult sacrifices that are saving lives.”
Calvary officials did not respond to a request for comment. But in May, the church resumed holding services after being shut down for months, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Church officials said then that they had the right to assemble and worship, and questioned the severity of the coronavirus.
According to a complaint filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, county officials attended services and watched live-streams where they observed hundreds of people, most of them not wearing masks, some standing “shoulder to shoulder” and shouting or singing, activities that health officials believe can spread the virus. The complaint said the Calvary Chapel services are “massive in size and pose an imminent risk of a super-spreader event.”
Santa Clara County has allowed indoor church services at up to 25% of capacity or up to 100 people since Oct. 13, Masks are required, along with social distancing.
Before that, only outdoor services were permitted.
Santa Clara County’s action follows a wave of unpermitted church reopenings across the country and comes amid a nationwide surge in the coronavirus. Officials in San Francisco clashed repeatedly with the Archdiocese of San Francisco and threatened legal action after the church repeatedly flouted health orders. But no legal action was ever taken.
County health officials have begun to crack down on the illicit assemblies, which churches say are constitutionally protected.
Santa Clara County had some of the nation’s first known coronavirus outbreaks and was an early hot spot. But the county, like most of the Bay Area, is now in the moderate zone. As of Friday morning, the county had 24,665 cases, including 113 new cases, according to the public health department. The county reported two new deaths, bringing the total to 404. A total of 83 people are hospitalized, including 17 new patients.
“Santa Clara County is one of the safest regions in the country because of our public health officer’s thoughtful, science-based approach, and because our residents have carefully complied with public health requirements,” said County Counsel James R. Williams.
“To keep our residents safe, and to allow schools, churches, and businesses to reopen and stay open, we need everyone to do their part. We cannot allow any organization in our community to willfully and repeatedly violate these orders, while everyone else, including other churches and religious organizations in the county, are complying.”