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CA High Court Rejects $217K COVID Fines Against Calvary Chapel San Jose, Legal Battle STILL Not Over

12-09-2022

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After two years, Calvary Chapel San Jose has overcome another hurdle in its ongoing legal battle against Santa Clara County's enforcement of Gov. Gavin Newsom's COVID lockdowns. But there are still a few left to go. 

The Los Angeles Times reports the California Supreme Court ruling last week denied a final bid by San Jose county to force the church to pay $217,500 in fines after the church was found in contempt of court. 

As CBN News has reported, Calvary Chapel and its pastors were held in contempt and fined in 2020 and 2021 for defying state and county pandemic limits on indoor public gatherings.

The California high court upheld an appeals court ruling in August that reversed a lower court's temporary restraining orders, preliminary injunctions, and contempt of court fines against the congregation, citing a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in February 2021 that Newsom's ban on indoor worship services violated freedom of religion.

The county then appealed to the state's Supreme Court to have the case reviewed by the panel of seven justices. Even though their ruling was somewhat in the church's favor, the court ordered the appeals court ruling to be depublished. That removes the ruling from the record and it can not be used as a legal precedent, The Times reported. 

Calvary Chapel San Jose and its pastors are represented by lawyers at Advocates for Faith & Freedom, a non-profit law firm.

Mariah Gondeiro, the firm's attorney, told The Times the high court's ruling was "a relief."

"We are pleased the California Supreme Court chose not to take up the matter," Gondeiro said. "We are very confident in a federal lawsuit where we seek to hold the county accountable for their unconstitutional public health orders."

Church and Pastor Still Facing $2.8 Million in Fines 

Meanwhile, despite the latest ruling, Calvary Chapel and Pastor Mike McClure are still facing $2.8 million in fines for not shutting down the church's worship services and for allowing people to come to pray at their building in person after Newsom tried to close churches statewide in 2020. 

"Calvary did not dispute the fact of its numerous and serious violations during the height of the pandemic and before vaccinations were available," a county statement said. "We will continue to hold Calvary accountable for putting our community's health and safety at risk."

The church and McClure filed a federal lawsuit in October of 2020 against California and Santa Clara County challenging the constitutionality of the state and county government's COVID orders. 

The county retaliated, suing the church later that same month for $2.8 million, claiming the church was a public health hazard and a nuisance for holding worship services in defiance of the county's COVID mandate. The county also classified the church as a commercial entity rather than a non-profit ministry. 

Santa Clara County officials are still demanding the church pay the fines, arguing that it violated health orders regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in five separate cases that the government cannot treat houses of worship as second-class institutions with harsh penalties and restrictions that exceed the restrictions placed on "essential" businesses.

"We have the {U.S.} Supreme Court to rely on, and the court is very favorable to religion," Gondeiro told The Times

CBN News has contacted the Santa Clara County Counsel's Office and Advocates for Faith & Freedom for their comments on this case. We will publish them here if we hear back. 

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As CBN News has reported, California was one of the most aggressive states in the nation in terms of the restrictions placed upon its citizens during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state and several counties levied hefty fines against houses of worship for COVID violations. 

In response, local and state governments faced a string of lawsuits for unfairly targeting churches after not applying the same standards and capacity limits to warehouses, big-box centers, shopping malls, liquor stores, fitness centers, and museums.

A few months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in May and June of 2021, California began paying millions of dollars in settlements to several churches after discriminating against them with its state pandemic closure orders.

As CBN News reported last April, five California churches received a six-figure damage award after Santa Clara County tried to close them down. 

The churches represented by the Pacific Justice Institute – in a joint effort with the Cannistraci Law Firm and McAllister Law Group – were Gateway City Church, The Home Church, The Spectrum Church, Orchard Community Church, and Trinity Bible Church.

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About The Author

Steve Warren is a senior multimedia producer for CBN News. Warren has worked in the news departments of television stations and cable networks across the country. In addition, he also worked as a producer-director in television production and on-air promotion. A Civil War historian, he authored the book The Second Battle of Cabin Creek: Brilliant Victory. It was the companion book to the television documentary titled Last Raid at Cabin Creek currently streaming on Amazon Prime. He holds an M.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and a B.A. in Communication from the University of