SAN JOSE, Calif.—Protesters held a rally outside the Santa Clara Superior Court in San Jose on Dec. 8 when a hearing took place over a church’s defiance of health orders.
The protesters came to support defendant Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Chapel San Jose and to call for the freedom to hold in-person church services during the pandemic. Attendees included members of the church’s congregation, other pastors, and supporters of the First Amendment.
A Santa Clara County health officer had filed a lawsuit against Calvary Chapel San Jose on grounds that the church was holding services for hundreds of people indoors, going against public health orders.
McClure reopened his church on May 31 amid Governor Gavin Newsom’s restrictions on public gatherings.
“[It’s] not so much to defy the governor but to take care of the needs of the people,” McClure previously told The Epoch Times.
During a Dec. 8 press conference, McClure said that there are many people in his church who had either a relative or a neighbor who committed suicide.
“This bothers me. It should bother all of us. What we want to do is help people, we want to minister to people. We don’t want anyone to get sick. No one in our church has gotten sick. No one’s gone to the hospital, and nobody’s died,” McClure said.
“I respect the judge. I understand, you know, what the laws are, but there’s a bigger law,” he said. “You have to either … follow God, or you’ve got to follow man. I have to follow what God’s word says.”
Supporters Speak at Rally
At the rally, protesters displayed signs such as “Church Is Essential,” “Freedom to Worship,” and “Free Pastor—Jail Newsom,” as well as biblical quotes.
Two of McClure’s sons spoke about the need for freedom of choice and the First Amendment.
“We should have the freedom to be able to decide what’s safe for us, and if the people think church isn’t safe, then they should just not come. The government should have nothing to say in that whatsoever,” Micah McClure told The Epoch Times.
He was shocked when the governor put restrictions on religious gatherings.
“They’re going against the First Amendment when they do that. They’re not going against necessarily … my father, so they have to beef that out almost with the Founding Fathers,” he said.
He said he’s heard many accounts of people committing suicide because they’re lonely or locked in their homes, not spending time with other people.
Micah’s brother, Sam McClure, told The Epoch Times that people have their rights and that “the people is the government.”
“When you give up your rights, you’re not going to be able to get it back, and I see everyone giving up their rights every day,” he said. “The people in authority, our government, is put in place to protect our rights, and right now … for most parts of the government, they’re not fulfilling that duty. So I’m just amazed that we’re allowing them to do that.”
Wayne Chun, a rally attendee, said that suicide has been a problem during the lockdown. He believes that people should not be denied access to churches.
“For Gavin Newsom to turn around and say we cannot sing or chant, and basically saying we can’t worship or pray in church—I think that’s ludicrous. That’s very bad stuff. It’s just a direct attack against Christianity,” Chun told The Epoch Times.
Anna Puffer, who lives in Salinas, Calif., told The Epoch Times she was grateful that her sons, ages 13 and 10, were able to get baptized in person a few weeks ago.
“We believe strongly in the First Amendment and our rights. We’re a homeschool family. We’ve got six kids, and we’re constantly teaching them their rights … freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble,” Puffer said.
She said the churches in Salinas are closed, so she’s been going to Calvary Chapel San Jose.
Puffer’s son told The Epoch Times that he agrees with his mother.
“If church wasn’t open, not many people would be able to get baptized like me and my brother,” he said.
Fined for Breaking Lockdown Orders
The chapel has been opening its doors for congregation every Sunday, and McClure’s legal team said that the church has had 800 attendees, divided into two sessions. The church can hold 1,900 people.
A judge ordered the church to pay sanctions for not complying with the temporary restraining order that was issued on Nov. 2.
The sanctions are $2,500 per day and may amount to $55,000 in fines for the church. This is in addition to the previous fines of over $700,000, McClure’s lawyer, Robert Tyler, said on Dec. 8.
“We are going to appeal, and we’ll address the fines through the court system. And I think, I believe, in the end, all the fines from the county and the sanctions issued today, I believe they’ll all be wiped away,” said Tyler.
Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said it is vital for individuals and entities to fully comply with public health orders, given the current surge in COVID-19 cases, according to a press release.
“These public health orders are literally a matter of life and death; they are designed to reduce COVID-19 transmission, avoid serious illness, and save lives. This entity’s ongoing violations put the whole community at risk, and they won’t be tolerated,” said Williams.
Mariah Gondeiro, co-counsel on McClure’s legal case, said the church provides masks at every service. Social distancing signs and hand sanitizers are placed throughout the church.
The attorney said they filed a federal hearing for Dec. 17.
“The orders are completely unconstitutional in the light of the recent Supreme Court case,” Gondeiro said.
The Supreme Court, in a 5–4 decision in November, blocked New York officials from limiting religious gatherings, The Epoch Times previously reported.
With reporting by David Zhang.