Silicon Valley Church Sues County Over Pandemic Restrictions

Silicon Valley Church Sues County Over Pandemic Restrictions
Pastor Mike McClure from Calvary Chapel San Jose. (Courtesy of Calvary Chapel San Jose)
Rebecca Weld

In California’s Silicon Valley, a church in San Jose with over 600 members has filed a civil rights lawsuit against county and state officials over COVID-related restrictions and fines.

From May through October 2020, Calvary Chapel San Jose (CCSJ) continued to hold indoor services with masks optional and did not enforce social distancing nor limit attendees, thus violating the county mandates that were in place during that time.

The county filed a civil enforcement lawsuit against the church in November 2020 to collect fines and penalties totaling $2.87 million, significantly higher than any COVID-19 mandate violation fines filed against any other entity in the state of California, according to public records.

CCSJ and Pastor Mike McClure filed their civil rights lawsuit in the Northern District of California against Santa Clara County, the Board of Supervisors, Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody, Governor Gavin Newsom, and the state public health officer. Plaintiffs will focus on depositions of Cody and the enforcement officers this summer.

Calvary Chapel’s case document was filed on April 15, 2022 and set for trial in the summer of 2023.

The document states: “Early in 2020, California public health officials became aware that a novel respiratory virus—dubbed COVID-19—was spreading in the state and could trigger a pandemic. Despite those concerns, state officials repeatedly told Californians that the risk to the general public was low. They encouraged Californians not to panic and to use common sense measures to combat the virus. ... But, during March 2020, a group of local government officials in the Bay Area decided to disregard that advice and take matters into their own hands.”

The document adds that Cody and Emergency Operations Center director James Williams issued a shelter-in-place order and convinced the other Bay Area counties to issue similar orders.

“Dr. Cody and Mr. Williams vigorously enforced [the county’s] stay-at-home order and subsequent COVID-19 orders, despite a plethora of scientific literature and studies connecting the lockdowns with an unprecedented mental health crisis. Churches were among those most heavily punished by Dr. Cody’s and Mr. Williams’ actions.”

It also states that the county sent threatening letters to the church’s bank, that this caused the bank to temporarily sever ties with the church, and that the U.S. Supreme Court had admonished state and county officials for placing such restrictions on churches in a violation of the First Amendment.

Williams, who jointly filed the lawsuit against the church with District Attorney Jeff Rosen, said in a press release in February this year: “The COVID-19 pandemic was and remains an unprecedented challenge for our community, and it is critical that everyone do their part to comply with the public health orders and keep each other safe. Calvary and its leadership were uniquely defiant in their refusal to do their part, and this lawsuit aims to hold them accountable for that failure.”

In a press release in 2020, Williams stated: “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.”

Pastor McClure said: “We must stand up against these wicked leaders that have no fear of God and we must refuse to follow any and all wicked and unbiblical laws. This is not political; it’s much deeper; it’s biblical. It’s time for America to remember where we have fallen, repent, and go back to the beginning works that made us a great nation where every town had at its center the gospel preached on Church Street and we all honored the First Amendment.”

Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney with Advocates for Faith and Freedom who is representing CCSJ and McClure, said, “I think this is a case about ego at this point, because what we’ve found is that not a single case of COVID-19 transmission can be traced to Pastor Mike McClure’s services or gatherings.”

After Williams sent a letter to the church’s bank about the case, the bank filed a Notice of Default against the church. The bank has since rescinded the Notice of Default and apologized to the church after learning that the church was contesting the fines, Gondeiro stated.

“If risk of contagion was the standard, then it would justify governments issuing these exorbitant fines,” Gondeiro said. “It’s actual harm they need to show, and I believe that the county won’t have a leg to stand on at trial.”

She argued that the county cannot justify fining the church strictly on the basis of spreading the virus, as the county is required to prove that the church actively harmed its congregants by remaining open, which they have not shown to date.

Rebecca Weld has over 25 years of business experience in executive roles in Silicon Valley. She is a graduate of Bradley University, with a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism.
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