Santa Clara County Still Seeks Millions in COVID Penalties From San Jose Church
Despite a recent state appellate court ruling, Santa Clara County continues to seek millions of dollars in penalties against a San Jose church for violating COVID-19 rules not affected by the decision.
Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s public health officer, was scheduled Thursday for a deposition in the ongoing case, in which an appellate court earlier this week dismissed $200,000 in fines against Calvary Chapel San Jose.
But Cody will be questioned about other violations the church may still be liable for such as requiring face masks during services in late 2020. The county still seeks nearly $3 million in fines.
“Calvary did not dispute the fact of its numerous and serious violations during the height of the pandemic and before vaccinations were available,” a county statement said. “We will continue to hold Calvary accountable for putting our community’s health and safety at risk.”
Legal analyst Dean Johnson said the debate of public health versus religious freedom is likely to end up with the nation’s high court.
“The Supreme Court may ultimately have to face the argument it avoided literally for centuries, which is ‘Can we as a court sit and decide what is a valid religious claim and what is not a valid religious claim?'” Johnson said.
In October 2020, at the height of the pandemic, Santa Clara County filed a restraining order against Calvary Chapel and Pastor Mike McClure over the weekly services that attracted about 600 people who weren’t wearing masks or social distancing.
At the time, a county health order limited indoor gatherings for religious or any other purposes to 100 people, mandated face coverings and required social distancing.
Days later, a judge ruled in favor of the county and ordered the church to halt services for hundreds of worshippers. The church defied the order and continued holding services that violated COVID-19 restrictions.