News & Politics

Here We Go: Ventura County, California, Sues Church to Halt Services

California lockdown protests. (Townhall Media/Julio Rosas)

Ventura County, Calif., has voted to order a church to stop conducting services and sermons due to the CCP coronavirus pandemic. The pastor, Rob McCoy, has continued to hold services, exerting his First Amendment right to practice his religion. McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, says he’s willing to go to jail over the principle. and that the orders for churches in California to shut down while other activities are allowed to continue are arbitrary and discriminatory. A Ventura County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order on Friday halting all services until a hearing on August 31.

Lawyers for Godspeak announced,

The church intends to present expert witnesses for the purpose of establishing that the State of California and the County of Ventura lack a compelling interest for the prohibition of indoor worship services and that the decision to prevent indoor worship services, while allowing other indoor activities, is arbitrary and without a rational basis. Godspeak Calvary Chapel will file a cross complaint against both the County of Ventura, State of California and the officials enforcing the orders.

The Ventura County Star reported:

Ventura County officials on Wednesday sued Newbury Park Pastor Rob McCoy and the chapel he heads to force compliance with public health orders intended to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The filing came a day after the Ventura County Board of Supervisors authorized legal counsel to seek restraining orders and other enforcement actions against individuals and entities who refuse to comply with the orders.

Supervisors Steve Bennett, Linda Parks and John Zaragoza voted in favor. Chairwoman Kelly Long and Supervisor Bob Huber opposed the motion.

In the lawsuit filed in Ventura County Superior Court, the county and Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin said McCoy and the Godspeak Calvary Chapel had violated the orders, causing “great and irreparable injury” to the public by creating a significant risk of further community spread. The suit also claims that the defendants have created a public nuisance.

Pastor McCoy has posted regular updates on the situation on the church’s YouTube channel.

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McCoy has repeatedly pointed out the double standards of county and state government protecting some First Amendment activities, while shutting down churches across California. He was quoted in the Star:

“They see fit to shutter our schools, destroy our businesses and close our churches,” he said, adding that the government’s cure is “far worse than the virus itself.”

Now, the county has been granted a temporary restraining order halting services at the church. A hearing is scheduled for August 31. McCoy issued the following statement after the Friday restraining order:

“We believe the judge should have left the status quo and allowed the church to continue meeting until a full trial on the validity of the state and county orders could be conducted. With 79 COVID-19 related deaths and 7,953 confirmed cases in Ventura County, the risk of death from infection is effectively 1%. But the risk of death for those in the Ventura County under 65 years old is only 0.18% and even less those persons who have no underlying health conditions. However, as argued in our pleadings, If we factor the number of persons who likely had COVID-19 antibodies but didn’t know it, the number of cases could be approximately 34,686 (based on a USC study: https://news.usc.edu/168987/antibody-testing-results-covid-19-infections-los-angeles-county). This would mean that the actual rate of death for persons under 65 who contract COVID-19 could be as low as 0.043%. Meanwhile, knee replacement causes death to approximately 1 in every 200 patients or 0.5% of the patients (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5213964/).  Is the state and county going to soon ban knee replacements or other elective surgeries that have death rates in excess of the COVID-19? We believe that COVID-19 can be fought with far less restrictive measures than banning all healthy persons from church and our expert witnesses will prove that.”

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In the announcement, the judge said that public health outweighs the First Amendment:

The church’s attorneys argued that the public health orders violated their clients’ constitutional rights to freedom of religion, but Guasco said the county’s interests in protecting public health and safety heavily prevailed. He rated the need for the order at the top of the scale, calling it a “10.”

Guasco cited the same issues in his opening remarks. The judge said he takes few questions as seriously as whether the First Amendment and the freedom to exercise religion should be restricted by the government, but that an equally powerful concern is the government’s role in protecting community health, safety and welfare.

“There is no exercise of a right unless people are alive to exercise it,” he said at the hearing lasting more than an hour in Ventura.

It would seem that McCoy and Godspeak Chapel have a case, in that nothing in the U.S. or California constitutions says that a state can cancel some parts of the First Amendment (but not others) for public health reasons. Then again, SCOTUS Chief Justice John Roberts recently established precedent to the contrary. This will be another opportunity to affirm the freedom to practice religion as enshrined in the First Amendment, depending on the constitutional fealty of the California court in which it will be heard.

Jeff Reynolds is the author of the book, “Behind the Curtain: Inside the Network of Progressive Billionaires and Their Campaign to Undermine Democracy,” available at www.WhoOwnsTheDems.com. Jeff hosts a podcast at anchor.fm/BehindTheCurtain. You can follow him on Twitter @ChargerJeff, and on Parler at @RealJeffReynolds.

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