SAN JOSE (Calif.) (AP). A California church which defied safety regulations by holding large unmasked religious ceremonies during the COVID-19 epidemic must pay $1.2M in fines.
Calvary Chapel, San Jose, was fined for violating the Santa Clara County mask wearing rules between November 2020 to June 2021.
Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney with the San Jose Mercury News, said that the church would appeal.
Calvary is one of many large Californian evangelical churches which flouted the state and local mask wearing and social distancing laws designed to prevent COVID-19 from spreading during its most deadly period.
This has resulted in a complex web of court decisions and challenges.
Calvary Chapel filed a lawsuit against the county, alleging that the health orders violated their religious freedom. Different courts have ruled in favor of the church or county.
Previously, the church and its ministers were fined and held in contempt for exceeding limits on public indoor gatherings. A state appellate court reversed these decisions last year. It said that restrictions on indoor worship were more strict than those for secular activities like going to the grocery store.
The county continues to seek fines against those who violate the mask wearing regulations.
In the ruling of April 7, Superior Court Judge Evette Pennypacker imposed the fines. She wrote: 'It is clear that, regardless of one's religious affiliation, wearing a face mask to worship your god and commune with others in a congregation, while exercising the right to freedom to practice religion, is an easy, unobtrusive way to do so, while also protecting other people.
She said that the church flouted health regulations and urged others to follow suit, 'no matter what cost', including death.
James Williams, County counsel for the county, said that the court "once more saw through Calvary’s unsupported claims and determined them to be meritless."
Williams stated that the county's response, which included the health officer’s public health orders, and enforcement against entities who refused to obey the law, resulted in thousands of lives being saved and one of the lowest mortality rates in any community of the United States.
According to California public health statistics, more than 101,000 Californians died of COVID-19. Since the peak of the virus's spread, death and infection rates are down. Gavin Newsom ended the state's emergency coronavirus several months ago.
The California Department of Public Health has ended the requirement for coronavirus and masking vaccinations in high-risk environments, such as health care facilities, prisons, and other institutions.