San Jose church fighting back against county as pastor faces fines, jail time for holding indoor services

The church is facing legal action from Santa Clara County for holding indoor gatherings with average attendance of about 700 in a space that can hold 1,900 people.
SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Several pastors made impassioned pleas Friday to keep their churches open to those suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic, despite legal action from Santa Clara County after one church held indoor gatherings in violation of public health orders.

"People are in crisis up and down the state, the mental health statistics are through the roof and the government wants close churches across the state," said Pastor Jime Domen with Church United.

The pastors gathered to support Calvary Chapel in San Jose.

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The church is facing legal action from Santa Clara County for holding indoor gatherings with average attendance of about 700 in a space that can hold 1,900 people.

The county limits indoor gatherings to 100 people.

The church has now retained its own lawyers to fight the fines and possible jail time for its pastor.

"What I see happening right now is cruel and unusual punishment, $330,000 in fines levied against a pastor simply for opening up," said Hector Moreno with the Home Church in Campbell.

"Over the past five months, not one person has contracted COVID-19, the have contributed zero to the infection rate of this county," said Mariah Gondeiro, lawyer representing Calvary Chapel.

VIDEO: South Bay church moves services outdoors after racking up $112K in COVID-19 fines
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A Santa Clara Co. church that held indoor services, against repeated warnings from officials, racked up $112K in COVID-19 fines. The pastor of North Valley Baptist announced he will no longer fight the county and has since moved his services outdoors.

Pastor Michael McLure, the senior pastor named in the county's lawsuit, said there are signs in his church to social distance and people can wear masks if they want, but none of it is enforced.

Santa Clara County counsel James Williams said that's the reason why the county felt the need to go to court.

"We tried to work with them for a long time, they've admitted to the violations and so we are seeking the help of the court in enforcing these really important orders," he said. "The reality is, almost every congregation, regardless of faith tradition has been safely in compliance with the public health directives."

Pastor McClure insists there have been no such conversations between his church and the county.

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"I would love to work with the health department but they came here, got really upset and yelled at us and left, they never wanted to talk to me or work with me and I'd love to, we're trying to help the community," said McClure.

Santa Clara County's counsel says 10 notices of violation were given to the church and with each notice, the county reached out with suggestions on how to safely worship.

At the press conference, the group was repeatedly asked why they were not social distancing or wearing masks.

"Sure we're outdoors and you read the medical warning in a mask, it will not protect you against COVID," said Domen.

"We are not against wearing masks, we are not against social distancing and what we are for is freedom and we want to make sure that these churches can gather and help those who are suffering," said Gondeiro.

The church will continue to be fined $5,000 for each day it continues to defy the public health orders.

A court date has been set for Monday.

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