San Jose’s Calvary Chapel gained notoriety for defying COVID-19 restrictions during the early pandemic, and the California Supreme Court just waived $217,500 in fines imposed on the church. We can thank the religion-loving conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
We’ve had churches openly defying COVID-19 restrictions and holding meetings here in San Francisco during the worst of the pandemic, with predictable results. But no church in the Bay Area has been so defiant in ignoring restrictions as San Jose’s Calvary Chapel, which was fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by Santa Clara County for continuing to hold large, unmasked gatherings (although the same church happily took over $300,000 in PPP loans).
Those hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines eventually crept close to $3 million. But Calvary Chapel won a legal victory in August when the California Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed fines against the church based on Trumper Supreme Court rulings on religious freedom versus public health. Santa Clara County appealed the case to the state Supreme Court, but the Bay Area News Group reports that the California Supreme Court on Wednesday denied reinstatement of fines against the church.
“We understand that the US Supreme Court has ruled that a public health order banning indoor gatherings is not neutral and generally applicable when the public health order prohibits any other type of gathering in Indoors permits secular activities, notwithstanding that indoor secular gatherings are also prohibited,” presiding judge Mary Greenwood wrote in the ruling just upheld by the state Supreme Court.
The church argued that since airports, restaurants, and grocery stores were open, their church should also be able to hold meetings. Santa Clara County maintained that the appeals court ruling applied only to gatherings and not to the church’s many other violations, such as ignoring restrictions on mask-wearing. Indeed, a look at Calvary Chapel’s Yelp photos shows large indoor gatherings with no one damn wearing masks in photos from January 2021, a time when the Bay Area was suffering record-high death tolls from the virus.
And Calvary Chapel is not entirely legally clear about the remaining fines. According to the Chronicle, Santa Clara County “said it will continue to seek $2.3 million in penalties against Calvary Chapel for not requiring face masks or other health precautions during services in late 2020.”
Related: Church of San Jose, which defied public health orders, wins appeal over Supreme Court legal shift [SFist]
Image: Ryan H. via Yelp