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Santa Clara County Superior Court (Photo: scscourt.org)

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Orders Calvary Chapel San Jose To Pay $1.2 Million

‘The county as well as the state allowed a lot of ‘essential businesses’ to stay opened, but not this church’

By Evan Symon, April 14, 2023 2:38 pm

In a ruling handed down on Thursday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker ruled that the Calvary Chapel San Jose church is to pay $1.2 million in fines stemming from breaking county COVID-19 restrictions during the pandemic.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when state and county orders forced churches to comply with lockdowns, limited indoor attendance and masking mandates, many churches openly defied restrictions. In California, Calvary Chapel Association churches were by far the most vigorous in defying bans. When a ban to stop all singing and chanting services came up in July 2020, two of the three churches that sued Governor Newsom over the ban were Calvary Chapel churches. Another Calvary Chapel church managed to defeat Ventura County in court over pandemic restrictions in 2021. For most, the choice to attend and not wear masks came down to religious freedom and the First Amendment, with many counties and local municipalities ultimately becoming unwilling to sue the churches over the issue once pressed. Many religious legal organizations, such as the Thomas More society, also got involved.

The Calvary Chapel San Jose church was another targeted by County authorities during the pandemic. Citing religious freedom, the church did not enforce masking or social distancing when COVID-19 restrictions were in place for Santa Clara County. When the County took the church to court for around $200,000 in fines last year for violations that occurred in 2020 and 2021, an appellate court dropped the fine due to Supreme Court precedent already being in place on the matter.

“The Supreme Court has been very clear over the last year that these orders violated the First Amendment. This is a religious freedom case, and they violated the First Amendment because they discriminate against religion,” constitutional attorney Mariah Gondeiro said on the matter last year. “The county as well as the state of California allowed a lot of essential businesses – or businesses that they deemed essential  – to stay opened, but not this church.”

However, the County kept legally pursuing the matter, raising the fine amount to $1.2 million in the process. With a federal court dismissing the Church’s claims against the county earlier this year, the case was put firmly in the hands of the Santa Clara County Superior Court. Now fully back in the state court, the Calvary Chapel once again cited that they were covered by the First Amendment and that restrictions violated the Constitution. But, in a reversal from previous cases, Judge Pennypacker, a Gov. Jerry Brown appointee, ruled this week that religious freedom could still be exercised with social distancing and masking policies in place, finding the Church in the wrong on the issue.

“It should appear clear to all—regardless of religious affiliation—that wearing a mask while worshiping one’s god and communing with other congregants is a simple, unobtrusive, giving way to protect others while still exercising your right to religious freedom. Unfortunately, defendants repeatedly refused to model, much less, enforce this gesture,” Pennypacker said in her ruling. “Instead, they repeatedly flouted their refusal to comply with the Public Health Orders and urged others to do so ‘who cares what the cost,’ including death.”

Church quickly appeals ruling

County officials praised the ruling, calling the Church’s claims “meritless.”

“It’s the County’s job to take care of its residents and protect the public health,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James R. Williams on the case. “The County’s response to the pandemic, including the Health Officer’s public health orders and enforcement against entities that refused to follow the law, saved thousands of lives and resulted in one of the lowest death rates of any community in the United States. Calvary’s arguments have been rejected at almost every turn. We are gratified that the Court once again saw through Calvary’s unsupported claims and found them meritless.”

However, Gondeiro quickly dashed the County’s hopes for an end to the saga by appealing the decision shortly after the ruling.

“We look forward to establishing more precedent on appeal that will have far greater implications for the future,” said the lawyer.

With the case now heading to an appellate court, many noted on Friday that the case would likely have an effect on similar cases, with millions in fines now possibly being at stake, as well as how future cases involving public health restrictions can go in court.

“The case is quickly snowballing into something much, much bigger,” explained Seth Morgan, a legal advisor, to the Globe on Friday. “Honestly, an appeal on this case can go either way, so it will be exciting what happens from here.”

More on the appeal is expected soon.

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24 thoughts on “Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Orders Calvary Chapel San Jose To Pay $1.2 Million

    1. I’d like to see that, CW. And that’s because what the terrorists are doing is much like displaying severed heads on stakes around the village. It’s a stark way of warning others against daring to do whatever it was their predecessors did.

  1. Masking and distancing that has proved to do nothing at all. “…the church did not enforce masking or social distancing…”

  2. The article is unclear as to which Supreme Court has ruled on these merits – was it the Calif or the US Supreme Court?

    1. It was neither. It is stated the ruling was handed down by the Santa Clara Superior Court.
      [In a ruling handed down on Thursday, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Evette D. Pennypacker]

  3. Keep fighting on Pastor Mike and the entire congregation. We need your “Good News”.
    One of the best churches if not the best church in the bay area.
    May God protect the church and our free will to practice our faith.
    These fines were only about power and control not about safety!
    This is just one battle in the spiritual war the world is facing.
    Currently up and down this state, mental illness is on the rise. Young people are feeling hopeless. Our Lord Jesus has the answers and Pastor Mike and other courageous religious leaders will lead the way to healing.
    Stand up and Look up!
    God Bless us all!

  4. The county cannot point to a case of someone dying as a direct result of attending the church (or any church for that matter). Nor can they prove that these mandates that they forced on us actually saved any lives. Most states that didn’t have as strict rules as California had the same if not better COVID outcomes that this state did. This case is purely anti-Christian bigotry pushed by anti-Christian county officials and rules on by an anti-Christian judge (just reading her ruling it’s clear she has a contempt of Christianity).

    1. Amen!
      That is exactly what is happening.
      The county decision is not based in fact and the evidence is clearer than ever.

    2. Disagree. The fact is Calvary Chapel decidedly lied when they said they would keep Covid / OSHA mandates in order to receive PPP. Weren’t they also lying when they said they are under “God’s law” when if they were they would have trusted him for financial provision, not the United States government. How is it that one business is entitled (as much as Calvary Chapel ironically speaks about entitlement) and another business is not? If the premise of the debate is that the mandates were unfair, unjust, and unnecessary then what makes Calvary Chapel think they are entitled to be unaffected by the same things that every other business was in fact effected by during Covid? What do they say to the gym owners, the hair salons, the restaurants to which I would add pay business taxes and Calvary Chapel does not but operates free from tax and financial accountability.
      What is totally strange here is that you would think that as much as they speak about being champions for faith that they would have in the very least considered their actions against their neighbor businesses. The law is the law, it stands on its own merit regardless of someone died or didn’t die, there was nothing in the mandate that prevented Calvary Chapel from worshiping God, they just didn’t want to adapt like the rest of us. Sounds more like they worshipped church more than God but that’s not for any of us to judge, on the One who can actually see the heart of humans.

  5. When oh when are these angry phony judges and others who keep tripling and quadrupling down on what is now a COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT MATTER going to be nailed for the misinformation they continue spew?

  6. The only question to be answered here is: Why should Calvary Chapel be entitled, and to have violated the mandates, that every other business in the county had to follow during Covid? There is clearly nothing about the church that separated it from other businesses. The church was not a sacred place, it was a place of business. They themselves declared this when they took government PPP money (and which by the way, in so doing affirmed that they would /were following the Covid mandates/OSHA guidelines) and thereby forfeiting it’s sovereignty and belief in holy provisions. More plainly stated, Calvary Chapel made a deal to accept Cesar’s hand out but wanted to claim living under “God’s law”?? How does that work exactly? How does it work altogether when we for instance, eliminate the point of taking Cesar’s cash, and examine the so called law they claimed to be under? Does it really say “break the law when you feel entitled”? Answer: No. This sure sounds like there is a lot of cherry picking to do between Genesis and Revelation to make logic of their position. Even yet, this is where we must pause and laugh. Does any of it really matter in the end? What is everyone so upset about? They will probably just change the business name, close up the old entity, and reopen under some other Calvary Chapel, after all – it’s just business.

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