Victory for CA Churches

Victory for CA Churches
Victory for CA Churches

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Church Freedom Fight Update: Victory Solidified for California Churches

First permanent injunction granted to protect Churches’ right to assemble since pandemic began; two Calvary Chapels await justice

By Christmas Beeler

During the pandemic, thousands of churches were prohibited from meeting by their local or state governments; in California, the governor had even forbidden in-home Bible studies for nearly a year. As the months stretched on and people became desperate for hope, several Calvary Chapel pastors made headlines fighting for their God-given and constitutional right to gather in worship and feed their flocks. After the Supreme Court majority shifted last fall, many won temporary injunctions enabling them to meet. This week, for the first time since the pandemic began, a California court has granted a more permanent ruling that the State may not discriminately close church doors again. Still, two Calvary Chapels await justice.

Liberty Counsel, a Christian non-profit legal organization that defends churches and believers on a pro bono basis, spent a year litigating against California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide religious lockdown before several courts—including the U.S. Supreme Court. On Friday, a California District Court granted the churches the freedom to meet—a freedom that extended to thousands of churches in their state.

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A Solid Win

Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, announced, “We have obtained a permanent, statewide injunction prohibiting him [Newsom] (and the State of California) from ever issuing another discriminatory COVID restriction on any church or place of worship in the state! No more church closings. No more capacity limits. No more singing bans. No more fines. No more threats of prison.”

What makes this case a unique victory? In the past year, churches from several states appealed similar bans and were granted the right to meet after going to court, aided by Liberty Counsel and other legal groups for religious freedom. However, all of those cases were resolved with only temporary or emergency injunctions. “This is the first statewide, permanent injunction in the nation,” Staver explained.

He is hopeful that the case will benefit churches nationwide. “We believe it will be followed by many others in numerous other cases that we continue to pursue, in Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Virginia and elsewhere, coast to coast,” Staver said. “Liberty Counsel is determined to ensure that the constitutional violations we have witnessed over the last year will never be repeated against the church.”

Still Awaiting Justice

In fact, Staver and his group are still representing Calvary Chapel Bangor, ME, in a case against Gov. Janet Mills. The church is seeking the right to meet without severe caps, fines, or criminal charges. In Maine, the statewide ban allows many groups to meet without hindrance—including facilities that offer needed aid and shelter—but still prohibits religious gatherings.

Maine’s ban is so pointedly anti-religious that the state would actually allow CC Bangor to host on site its Calvary Residential Discipleship program for those with addiction and other life-controlling issues—just as long as they don’t sing worship songs or read the Bible. In his statement to the court, Pastor Ken Graves declared that these stipulations are unconstitutional, dangerous, and defeat the whole purpose of the ministry.

Though Pastor Ken’s case had been slated to be heard earlier this month, it was tabled until an unknown later date—frustrating the brothers and sisters at CC Bangor and countless other churches in the state of Maine, which continues to have the most severe church lockdown restrictions in the country.

A Battle Still Ahead

Senior Pastor Mike McClure of Calvary Christian Fellowship in San Jose, CA, is another pastor who has endured mounting fines and criticism for ministering to his flock throughout the pandemic. Not only did Mike face the harsh lockdown stipulations of the governor, but also Santa Clara County officials. In addition to fining him thousands for every Sunday service, county officials even came into Calvary on a weeknight to count how many people were attending a small prayer gathering in order to assess and issue more fines.

In fact, Pastor Mike and his church have been hit with more than $2 million in fines for having church services. Mike reported that, instead of being deterred, hundreds of people came hungry to receive God’s Word. “We’re seeing a revival,” Mike reported in February. “In the last two months, we had over 100 baptisms.” His church’s fines have not yet been revoked by the county.

Advocates for Faith and Freedom (AFF) attorney Robert Tyler, who represents Pastor Mike, explained that although the permanent injunction eliminates capacity restrictions, it does not eliminate masks or social distancing requirements on churches. “The injunction does not suffice for Pastor Mike. He is intent on continuing to challenge all provisions of the State’s public health orders to uncover the shallow rationale for the shutdown,” said Attorney Mariah Gondiero, AFF Litigation Counsel.

Power of Prayer

Mat Staver, who is also a Christian, thanked all of the believers who have faithfully interceded during the Church’s freedom fight over the past year. Countless believers heard about the case and responded with prayer, having learned about it through the Liberty Counsel’s website and Facebook page, as well as that of Calvary Chapel Magazine, CC Bangor, and other CC churches who spread the word.

“Thank you for your prayers and for standing with us during this battle. Your prayers have sustained us and have moved the heart of our Lord,” Mat said, citing 2 Corinthians 2:14, which reads, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” He added, “To God be the glory!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.

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