The Ventura County Board of Supervisors dropped their lawsuit against Pastor Rob McCoy and Godspeak Calvary Chapel following the recent U. S. Supreme Court decisions to protect religious practice in California, despite Gov. Gavin Newsom ordering the indefinite closure of churches during the coronavirus statewide lockdown.
The Globe talked with Pastor Rob McCoy and his attorney Robert Tyler, President of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, about the county’s lawsuit against Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park. Attorney Tyler said Pastor Rob McCoy was the first pastor in the State to be sued for holding holiday services. “The County got an injunction against Pastor McCoy,” Tyler said.
Pastor McCoy announced back in May 2020 that he planned to hold Pentacost Sunday services on May 31st. Tyler said McCoy announced on his nightly fireside video chats he was prepared to open as an essential service.
And then he held four packed services May 31st.
“The County filed a Motion for Contempt” Tyler said. “So we went to trial on contempt charges.” But what was so ironically funny, was Tyler had received photos of Ventura County code enforcement officers sent to enforce the shut down orders against Godspeak Calvary Chapel, sitting in their tiny county car, shoulder-to-shoulder, and maskless. Tyler cross-examined the county code enforcement officers who admitted under oath that they were indeed maskless, sitting in the car shoulder-to-shoulder, and were not family members – all conditions they demanded of the church.
“We showed their hypocrisy,” Tyler said. “The County had egg on their face. But they didn’t take any further enforcement action.”
However, Tyler said they filed a cross-complaint in order to ramp up discovery, and expose the justification for the closures, the lockdowns, and to gain access to the data. “The responses are due in a couple of weeks,” Tyler said. Tyler also noted that he received a report with data showing which businesses and industries were the biggest spreaders of COVID-19. “Churches were the lowest,” he said.
Pastor McCoy said they are not dropping their counter-lawsuit against the county. “It’s costing us hundreds of thousands of dollars, but money is worthless without liberty,” McCoy said.
“The County of Ventura had no real option but to dismiss its case against Godspeak Calvary Chapel,” Attorney Tyler said. “The County was the first to file for contempt charges against a church and its pastor for merely exercising their religious liberty. The U. S. Supreme Court has continued to rule against the State of California and multiple county restrictions because they are unconstitutional. We will continue to prosecute our cross-complaint against the County and the State and will force them to provide the real justification behind the infringement on the religious liberty of thousands of people.“
“I call this a Poker game,” Pastor McCoy said. “The County has been using taxpayer money to gamble.” He said even after Ventura County lifted the charges, there were no fines, no further restraining orders, but also no apology.
This is from the Ventura County Board of Supervisors’ press release:
“The Board of Supervisors has unanimously voted to dismiss the lawsuit against Godspeak Calvary Chapel. The lawsuit was a last resort to keep the public safe through adherence with State Public Health Orders in the height of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Dismissing the lawsuit is an act of goodwill in acknowledgement of the loosening of indoor restrictions accompanying the County’s move into the Orange Tier.”
The State of California’s COVID-19 INDUSTRY GUIDANCE: Places of Worship and Providers of Religious Services and Cultural Ceremonies, is dated July 2020, and still orders churches to follow these guidelines:
Even with adherence to physical distancing, convening in a congregational setting of multiple different households to practice a personal faith carries a relatively higher risk for widespread transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and may result in increased rates of infection, hospitalization, and death, especially among more vulnerable populations. In particular, activities such as singing and chanting negate the risk reduction achieved through six feet of physical distancing.
*Places of worship must therefore discontinue indoor singing and chanting activities and limit indoor attendance to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees, whichever is lower. Local Health Officers are advised to consider appropriate limitations on outdoor attendance capacities, factoring their jurisdiction’s key COVID-19 health indicators. At a minimum, outdoor attendance should be limited naturally through implementation of strict physical distancing measures of a minimum of six feet between attendees from different households, in addition to other relevant protocols within this document.
This is particularly notable in the state guidelines for churches:
Considerations for Places of Worship:
• Discontinue offering self-service food and beverages. Do not hold potlucks or similar family-style eating and drinking events that increase the risk of cross contamination. If food and beverages must be served, provide items in single-serve, disposable containers whenever possible. Workers or volunteers serving food should wash hands frequently and wear disposable gloves.
• Discontinue singing (in rehearsals, services, etc.), chanting, and other practices and performances where there is increased likelihood for transmission from contaminated exhaled droplets. Consider practicing these activities through alternative methods (such as internet streaming) that ensure individual congregation members perform these activities separately in their own homes.
• Consider modifying practices that are specific to particular faith traditions that might encourage the spread of COVID-19. Examples are discontinuing kissing of ritual objects, allowing rites to be performed by fewer people, avoiding the use of a common cup, offering communion in the hand instead of on the tongue, providing pre-packed communion items on chairs prior to service, etc., in accordance with CDC guidelines.