SAN JOSE, Calif. – A Superior Court of California judge in Santa Clara County ruled that Calvary Chapel San Jose must pay $1.2 million in fines, including interest, for violating public health orders during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.
Judge Evette Pennypacker made the ruling last Friday citing the church’s “egregious conduct.”
The judge rejected the church’s argument that the public health officer’s orders prevented it from exercising its religious freedom or violated the Constitution.
The church routinely held large, indoor unmasked services during the coronavirus pandemic despite the health orders that applied to every entity in the county.
The Office of the County Counsel on Wednesday issued a statement on the ruling.
“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. 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.”
After shuttering in March 2020 amid the early days of the pandemic, Calvary, with an indoor capacity of 600 people, reopened for religious services on May 31, 2020, without a capacity cap, which was required at that time for indoor activities.
Between May 31, 2020, and May 2021, Calvary held a pair of Sunday services with an average attendance of between 300 and 500 attendees, according to the judgment, as well as prayer gatherings and roughly 1,000 baptism ceremonies.
The Superior Court’s order comes after a federal court largely dismissed Calvary’s claims against the County. The remainder of the case was stayed, allowing the State court to rule, county counsel said.
The County said its priority was to take care of its residents during the public health emergency and that their lawsuit against the church was to seek accountability.
Bay City News contributed to this story.