Santa Clara County Judge Rejects Bid to Dismiss $2.8M in Covid Fines Against Calvary Chapel

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge has rejected a motion to dismiss the county's lawsuit seeking to collect nearly $3 million in fines levied against a San Jose church that defied local and state COVID-19-related health orders.

Judge Christopher Rudy issued a ruling Monday denying the motion, allowing the lawsuit against Calvary Chapel San Jose and the church's senior pastor Mike McClure to continue pre-trial discovery proceedings.

According to the county, Calvary owes more than $2.8 million in unpaid fines for violating county health orders that prohibited indoor gatherings and required people to wear face coverings when indoors.

“The COVID-19 pandemic was and remains an unprecedented challenge for our community, and it is critical that everyone do their part to comply with the public health orders and keep each other safe,” said Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams, who jointly filed the lawsuit with District Attorney Jeff Rosen. “Calvary and its leadership were uniquely defiant in their refusal to do their part, and this lawsuit aims to hold them accountable for that failure,” Williams said.

Calvary Chapel and the county have been in dispute since the early days of the pandemic, when the county prohibited indoor gatherings or any kind from March through mid-October 2020, when the county allowed indoor gatherings of up to 100 people or 25 percent of a venue's capacity.

Calvary, with an indoor capacity of 600 people, resumed indoor services without a capacity cap in May 2020, according to the county, which began levying fines against the church that August after initially issuing a warning.

The county eventually filed a civil enforcement lawsuit against the church in November 2020 in an effort to collect the fines, the most it levied against any business or organization for COVID-related infractions since the pandemic began.

The church, meanwhile, has argued that the county's health orders restricting worship services violated the First Amendment's religious freedom protections.

In the fall of 2020, Calvary counter-sued Santa Clara County, the county's Board of Supervisors, county public health officer Dr. Sara Cody, state epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan and Gov. Gavin Newsom in federal court over the capacity limits for worship services.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, subsequently granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November 2020.

The church also continues to claim that it has never been the source of any COVID cases. As of Friday, Calvary has not paid any of the fines levied by the county.

“I am confident that we'll be able to show that the church did not contribute to any harm, but helped hundreds of people,” said Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney with Advocates for Faith and Freedom, which is representing McClure and Calvary Church.

Gondeiro argued that the county could not justify fining the church strictly on the basis of the risk of spreading the virus, and said the county should be required to prove that the church actively harmed its congregants by remaining open.

“If risk of contagion was the standard, then it would justify governments issuing exorbitant fines,” she said. “It's actual harm, and I believe that the county won't have a leg to stand on at trial.”   Representatives for the church did not return a request for comment.

“We continue to remain grateful for the leadership of the vast majority of religious institutions and businesses in our community that prioritized the safety of our community and complied with all relevant public health orders,” Williams said.

18 Comments

  1. These faux christians likely spread a fatal disease all over Santa Clara county and beyond. I am stunned at the irresponsibility and hypocrisy they are showing. The church leadership should be given a jail sentence as well as fined more heavily.

  2. Dale youre a nervous Nelly drama queen! Faux patriots pretending they care about our children and our nation. #walkaway

  3. Do you really trust the government? You must not mind when the government makes you pay higher taxes and inflation on goods. Or when the government gives your tax money to poor people on welfare who pan handle for money too. I trust God and Calvary Church.

  4. It is truly mind-boggling. Our church absolutely embraced changing our physical set-up for worship. Virtual, or outdoors when weather permitted. We all wanted to keep each other and those in our community well and safe. It wasn’t hard. No one was stopping anyone from worshiping, we simply needed to, like anywhere indoors, make some simple and temporary changes to help everyone in our community get through this. I lost my brother to Covid and I wouldn’t wish this on anyone. I just can’t understand why this church didn’t want to help it’s community 😔💔

  5. Dale, this shows your ignorance unfortunately. Only Christ can judge who is and who is not a Christian. I suppose if you had lived in Florida or Missouri or Texas you’d feel differently, since they met without masks and had no occupancy restrictions. Yet, they have no higher incidence rate, in fact it is lower.

    The county and local media have suppeona’d phones, emails, etc of the church staff and members to investigate if there was one single death from Covid that can be attributed to attending. Guess how many they found? Take a stab at it? Zero! NOT A SINGLE ONE. So you do you and the rest of us who choose to attend and are consenting adults will do us.

    We will pray for you. Have no fear brother, instead pray about everything. Open your eyes to this deception!

  6. As a believer, I’m appalled at the carelessness shown by this church. You had the impact to show compassion and care for your neighbors- “the least of these” which were medically at risk people. You could’ve led people to Christ in this time and instead you made it a political attack. Dig your heels in, but God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. No one prevented you from worshiping- it just wasn’t what you wanted it to look like- a big crowd. That means you cared more about your ego then you did the gospel. Shame on you.

  7. God forbid you ever need government assistance and realize- no, it’s not enough to cover my costs. If that’s the case you better not have taken a single penny of COVID relief money. You’re a hypocrite if you did. And if you didn’t- you’re just a greedy person pretending to be righteous. I grew up on welfare and by the grace of the Lord, he gave us help to build a way out of poverty. We now are able to give back to our communities more than we ever thought. Stop being prideful and be compassionate!

  8. The County’s case would be the same if the church structure had no fire safety infrastructure, no structural supports to protect against seismic risks, or had plumbing fixtures that.
    violated city codes. The issue here is public safety, not the beliefs of the church’s leadership or of its congregants That should be the only standard here: did the church leadership/directors violate public pandemic-induced health regulations/protocols or not? Churches are largely exempt from property taxes (https://www.boe.ca.gov/proptaxes/church_exemption.htm) and can also avoid income taxes (https://www.hollandnonprofitlaw.com/taxation-of-churches-and-religious-organizations-in-california-1).

    But they sure (as hell) should not be exempt from public safety codes and regulations. Lord knows there is no shortage of self-serving fraudsters of every color and stripe exploiting religion and the religious (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_religious_leaders_convicted_of_crimes; https://scambusters.org/churchscam.html).

  9. Public pandemic-induced health regulations/protocols violated the constitution? Public Health Officials unilaterally suspend the constitution and deprive citizens of fundamental human rights. Why are Costco, Walmart and Home Depot open, but churches closed? Cody’s diktats weren’t even rationally related to her public health goals. Big Box stores should have been shut down while smaller Mom and Pop stores remained open to keep community spread localized.

  10. This Church is a blessing beacon of hope. In times of despair it is faith that keeps us together. May you all prevail over the vailed attempt to silence your message and strike down the restriction of the gathering of people in His name.

  11. From the above article: “The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, San Jose Division, subsequently granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit in November 2020.” Was the dismissal with leave to amend or without? A crucial fact omitted above.

    More than a year after the reported ruling, the federal lawsuit against the County appears to be still alive and, per the federal judge as reported in the Mercury News on March 10, 2022, the litigation between the County and the church has “mushroomed out of control” because the County persists in seeking to impose massive fines in apparent violation of federal constitutional favoring religious liberty and disfavoring excessive fines.

    Perhaps an update of your article is warranted.

  12. William, I looked back to your post history and you realize that last March you posted on here saying Covid was over to right? Then we had delta and omicron. I agree we are winding down but if you do what you did last year and assume it’s over you are setting up for a horrible year. There are waves and until we go all summer without a spike it’s NOT over. We need no summer and winter spike and then abs only then will this be endemic.

  13. Why does Calvary Chapel suppose it’s above every other business? What makes this business any more important than all the other businesses hat had to shutdown? I have attended Calvary Chapel for over 20 years, so I’m not saying this either bias against Calvary Chapel but rather I’m more inclined to support it. The facts though speak for themselves, they CHOSE to break the law under the assumption that they didn’t have to follow it. This was promoted with scripture taken out of context and also while they received PPP money which REQUIRED compliance to OSHA regulations.
    Further, I attended a Calvary Chapel during Covid, and everyone got it. The entire staff, the pastor and his family, people were at church spreading it most without knowing, and that is a fact. Some people ended up in the hospital, others believe that they gave it to family members who passed. Every person in leadership had a clear understanding not to speak about it and that’s classic Calvary. (I have texts that still exist on my phone to this effect). The point is, they made a choice and I don’t begrudge their choice itself, what I do begrudge is the whole misuse of “under God’s law”. Nobody said they could not gather, all that was required was to gather within the limitations of Covid. “Gather” in the Bible doesn’t even have a quantifiable number of over 3, so the argument is dead on arrival when they infer “God’s law” and frankly when they received tax free PPP, they stopped being under God’s law and placed themselves under government law. The whole thing is because of their choices, and none of it is biblically anchored. Sadly. It’s hard to admit this and to post it here, but those are the facts.

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