The County of Santa Clara’s actions to fine and sanction a local church in San Jose, CA has been ruled unconstitutional when it obtained a temporary restraining order and injunction in November 2020 against Calvary Chapel San Jose, Pastor Mike McClure, and Pastor Carson Atherly for violating the Covid-19 health orders that restricted church services, required masks and the submission to the county of a Covid-19 Social Distancing Protocol.
When the church continued to hold worship services, the County successfully asked the Santa Clara County Superior Court to hold the church and its pastors in contempt of court and for monetary sanctions to be ordered against the church and Pastor McClure in December of 2020.
But the church continued to defy the court-issued injunction believing the injunction and the order for contempt were unconstitutional. On February 16, 2021, the superior court again held the church and Pastor McClure in contempt of court and issued monetary sanctions. This time, Pastor Carson Atherly was added to the order.
In sum, the church and its pastors were fined more than $200,000 in sanctions by the superior court at the request of the County. But the church continued to hold worship services in reliance on its belief the First Amendment would validate its actions.
This week, the California Court of Appeal reversed the injunction, the contempt orders, and the monetary sanctions. The Court of Appeal ruled:
For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional pursuant to the recent guidance of the United States Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice (see, e.g., Tandon v. Newsom (2021) 593 U.S. __ [141 S. Ct. 1294] (Tandon).) As the underlying orders which Calvary Chapel violated are void and unenforceable, we will annul the orders of contempt in their entirety and reverse the orders to pay monetary sanctions.
The church and pastors were represented by lawyers at Advocates for Faith & Freedom. Robert Tyler, President of Advocates for Faith & Freedom commented, “this is a significant victory for churches and pastors across this country. We are honored to represent pastors and churches who are willing to take the heat in defense of liberty because it benefits everyone.”
Pastor Mike McClure responded to the victory, “I thank God that our actions have been justified by the Court of Appeal. We are here to help the hurting, save the lost, and worship God without governmental intrusion.”
However, the County of Santa Clara continues to persecute the church in seeking to enforce approximately $2.8 million in fines that it unilaterally levied against the church for defying the county health orders. This part of the case continues to be litigated in federal court.
Advocates attorney Mariah Gondeiro stated, “the state Court of Appeal ruling should foreshadow the expected outcome in federal court. We expect complete victory in the end.”
The Court of Appeal Opinion and other documents related to this case and its related cases can be found at Calvary Chapel and Pastor Mike McClure Sue County Counsel James Williams for Unlawful Retaliation — Advocates For Faith & Freedom (faith-freedom.com).