Southern California church holds indoor services in defiance of restraining order

By MEREDITH DELISO, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — A Southern California church that was sued and issued a restraining order over hosting indoor services defied state and local mandates when it opened its doors on Sunday.

Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Ventura County hosted three indoor services, marking its latest run-in with orders that the church’s pastor said are an attack on “religious liberty.”

The county, meanwhile, has referred to the church’s actions as a “callous disregard of public health orders during a global pandemic,” according to court records.

As alleged in a lawsuit filed by Ventura County, Godspeak has hosted several indoor services in recent weeks, despite a July 13 statewide order prohibiting several businesses and activities — including places of worship — from holding indoor operations in the county amid a rise in cases of COVID-19.

In its complaint, filed Wednesday, the county also alleged that the church “allowed and encouraged” its attendees to violate mandates to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.

The suit stated that the church’s actions will cause “great and irreparable injury” to the public “by creating a significant risk of further community spread of COVID-19, including hospitalizations and deaths, which in turn is likely to result in continued and further restrictions on businesses and other operations and activities within Ventura County, detrimentally affecting the quality of life of the entire community.”

On Friday, a judge issued a two-week restraining order banning the church from holding indoor services.

Immediately following the hearing, the church’s pastor, Rob McCoy, said in an update posted to YouTube that they would be “violating the judge’s order” and opening Sunday.

“We want to worship. And we’re going to worship,” McCoy said in the video.

Sunday’s 9 a.m. service drew several hundred attendees, according to Los Angeles ABC station KABC-TV. There was also a mix of protesters — those against and those in support of the church reopening — who briefly clashed outside.

The local sheriff’s office didn’t plan to cite people attending the services, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Godspeak is allowed to host services outdoors, such as in a park — a notion McCoy has rejected as “impossible” due to the size of the congregation.

“Fifteen-hundred people — what park?” he said in Friday’s video.

He also said that the church has received threats, “so our people would be in danger” at the park.

In a second update, posted Saturday to the church’s YouTube page, McCoy called the measures “unprecedented” and “draconian.”

“This is a religious liberty issue,” said McCoy, a former City Council member who resigned in April, after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared churches a nonessential service.

Throughout the pandemic, churches have often been the source of outbreaks. McCoy said his church hasn’t had any cases of COVID-19 since it reopened on May 31.

On Friday, Ventura County reported 111 new cases of COVID-19, pushing the total number of cases the area has seen to 8,146. There were also seven new deaths, totaling 89.

A hearing in the county’s lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 31.

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