Updates of efforts by California county to crush local church and the church’s efforts to stand up for the rights of all Christians.

…closed due to government violation of First Amendment. Image courtesy of Adobe Stock.

Santa Clara County in California has been putting pressure on Calvary Chapel San Jose for daring to hold worship services during the pandemic.

We now know the efforts to suppress Christian worship were a flagrant violation of the First Amendment, as determined by the Supreme Court in multiple rulings. See end of this discussion for list of posts describing the rebukes from the Supreme Court. (If you want to see the results when ideologues write feeble legal briefs, I heartily encourage you to read the dissents from the Supreme Court’s rulings.)

The county levied plenty of fines and a temporary injunction against the church. Previous article describing Calvary Chapel San Jose’s efforts to exercise their first amendment right to free expression of religion:

Since my post back in November 2020, we have learned the county was allegedly conducting surreptitious surveillance on the church during the pandemic. A neighboring church allegedly assisted with the surveillance. Fines issued by the county have been dismissed at the appellate level.

Now the church has filed suit against the county for their surveillance. They are standing up for the rights of all Christians to gather in worship.

This discussion is posted here on Nonprofit Update blog, as well as Outrun Change, because this affects the freedom of many in this audience.

By the way, if you see an above average amount of ridicule and sarcasm in this post, it is here in the hope that out-loud, belly laughter directed at officials will encourage said officials to reconsider their foolish ways. Supreme Court rulings don’t seem to have had that effect yet.

3/16/23 – The Christian Post – California church denies working with gov’t officials to surveil lockdown-defying Calvary Chapel

Starting in August 2020, employees of Santa Clara County apparently conducted surveillance on Calvary Chapel San Jose, counting the people who entered the sanctuary and documenting parishioners who were, horror of all horrors, not wearing face masks as dictated by the county and state.

The surveillance resulted in over $200,000 in fines levied against the church for daring to disobey official diktats.

The effort to crush the congregation financially came to an end when federal courts dismissed the attempted fines in light of multiple Supreme Court rulings mentioned above and below that religious worship services are actually part of the First Amendment. Had the Supreme Court not found religious expression is covered by the Constitution, the county would have successfully crushed the congregation.

The surveillance was conducted from the property of a neighboring church, allegedly with the church’s permission. Someone in leadership gave permission for the county’s secret police to be on the property multiple times. The pastor of the church is quoted as asserting that even though several members of leadership gave permission to do so, the majority of leadership objected to the surveillance and insisted it be stopped after they learned of it.

Multiple lessons to learn here. The first two which come to mind:

First, some government officials will try to crush religious expression if you give them the sliver of an excuse.

Second and more frightening, some leaders of Christian churches will cooperate with the police to crush other churches when the other church doesn’t bend the knee to official government policy like some leaders of the surveilling church did. (If you know what ‘bend the knee’ means, you know to Whom else one’s knee ought to be bent, but that is topic for another day.)

8/25/23 – The Christian Post – California church sues County for alleged spying on members during pandemic shutdowns Calvary Chapel San Jose, now called Calvary Christian Fellowship, has filed suit against Santa Clara County for alleged surveillance conducted using geo-tracking.

Article says a different reporter in a Substack article quoted court documents saying the county used stakeouts and monitored in-person attendance and prayer groups, along with tracking cell phone locations of churchgoers.

The county’s response? They only gathered cell phone location data after the fact in order to respond to the litigation. I think that makes the response an affirmative defense (that means they admit they did it but were justified in doing so). Their defense, I think, is they did in fact track churchgoers using congregant’s cell phones but only in order to prepare defense for the litigation. 

If I can put this together correctly, that means the county acknowledges they conducted surveillance on individual congregants to confirm the results of surveillance they conducted during the pandemic. 

I acknowledge my vested interest in this case, since I place high value my First Amendment rights, but still, it sure seems odd to me that a second round of surveillance conducted on identified individuals to prove results of the first round of surveillance is not going to be a particularly strong defense.

Litigation is being handled by Advocates for Faith and Freedom.

Other background information provided in the article:

The $200,000 in fines levied by the county were dismissed by a California district court of appeals in August 2022. In contrast to other California appeal judges (see third linked post below), these judges actually had the ability to read and comprehend Supreme Court injunctions.

In 2023, the County imposed a $1.2 million fine. Article does not say if that excessive fine, which on its face violates multiple Supreme Court injunctions, has been dismissed.

The church has a capacity of 1,900 with around 600 attending worship during the pandemic. That puts them at just under one third of capacity.

Comment by the pastor and the church’s attorney indicate they are standing up not only for members of the congregation by for all churches in the county. They are carrying the burden to stand up for all churches against government agencies that want to remove the free expression clause from the First Amendment.

A few of my discussions on Supreme Court rulings finding the Free Expression clause of the First Amendment is still in effect, much to the disappointment of California governor and California courts:

If you want to see feeble examples of legal reasoning, I again encourage you to read the dissents from the Supreme Court’s rulings.

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