It is the epilogue of a two-year conflict between the Calvary Chapel Church and local authorities in California. The state Supreme Court on Dec. 1 denied a Santa Clara County request that the congregation pay nearly a quarter of a million in court costs. Relying on the First Amendment to the Federal Constitution, the Church had defied the county and the state by refusing to close its doors despite the restrictions linked to the pandemic, the danger of which it denied. The case caused a stir across the Atlantic.
In October 2020, Santa Clara County in California issued a directive limiting reception in places of worship to a maximum of 25% of their capacity. The text specified that a maximum limit of 100 people was imposed, targeting congregations large enough for a quarter of the faithful to exceed one hundred.
These limits applied to churches, as well as cinemas and cultural events, while other gatherings were prohibited. The county had also removed the crowd limits on access to businesses and authorized reception in zoos and museums at 50% of their capacity.
With more than 1 members, Calvary Chapel refused to comply with this order, persisting in the choice to open freely which had already earned it $220 fine when all indoor meetings were prohibited.
“If Walmart is open and you can go there, it is essential, just like the church, but it is even more so because Walmart does not have the right to the first amendment,” said about it Mike McClure, the congregation's pastor, to The Epoch Times on Oct. 7.
This amendment in effect prohibits Congress from limiting the exercise of worship, a principle applied by the Supreme Court to all authorities by its Everson case v. 1947 Board of Education.
According to the California newspaper Hoodline, the Church claimed, without providing evidence, in November 2020 that none of those who attended church services in the past five months had been infected.
An accumulation of fines linked to prohibitions lacking neutrality according to justice
The congregation's refusal to comply with the directive initially earned it $190 fine split between the Church, ordered to pay $142, and the pastors, ordered to pay $000. The Calvary Chapel had taken the case to court and had been dismissed at first instance, it had also been sentenced to a fine of 48 euros for contempt of court because of its refusal to comply with the court decision.
As of August this year, total health fines amounted to $2,87 million accumulated in a series of lawsuits. However, on August 15 a state appeals court annulled the fine of 217 euros and upholds the new case law of the Federal Supreme Court prohibiting in November 2020 the restriction of access to places of worship. The total of the health fines is therefore indirectly made illegal by this cancellation of the legal fine.
According to the Court of Appeal, the limitations were not neutral, because they were stricter for religious services than for secular activities, such as supermarkets.
The county then seized the Supreme Court of California to counter this decision, but the latter has just confirmed it.
Ironically, during the pandemic, when Calvary Chapel was in conflict with California state and county authorities, she received federal public assistance of $340 under the Paycheck Protection Program.