A judge ruled Friday to have a church in California pay $1.2 million in fines—including interest—for defying COVID-19 rules during the pandemic by holding large religious services where attendees were not wearing masks.

Calvary Chapel in San Jose was dealt the fine, including 10 percent interest, on April 7 by Evette Pennypacker, a Superior Court of California judge in Santa Clara County, for having exhibited “egregious conduct” in flouting the mask-wearing rules of the county between November 2020 and June 2021.

Calvary Chapel was one among several large churches in California that ignored the state and local mask-wearing and social distancing rules at the time.

“It should appear clear to all—regardless of religious affiliation—that wearing a mask while worshiping one’s god and communing with other congregants is a simple, unobtrusive, giving way to protect others while still exercising your right to religious freedom,” Pennypacker wrote in the April 7 ruling.

She rejected the church’s argument that the public health orders stopped it from exercising its religious freedom, or that the orders violated the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Mariah Gondeiro, an attorney for Calvary Chapel, told the San Jose Mercury News the church will appeal.

“We look forward to establishing more precedent on appeal that will have far greater implications for the future,” she wrote in a statement.

The county has been seeking millions of dollars in fines from the church after it ignored the public health orders. Calvary Chapel subsequently sued the county, saying the health orders violated its religious freedom. Various courts have ruled either in favor of the church or the county.

The church and its pastors were previously held in contempt of court and fined for violating limits on indoor public gatherings. But last year, a state appeals court reversed the decision, after it found that restrictions that had been imposed by the county on indoor worship services were stricter than for everyday activities such as going to grocery stores.

County Counsel James Williams issued a statement on the ruling on Wednesday. He asserted that the county’s response to the pandemic, which included imposing the public health orders and enforcing the orders against “entities that refused to follow the law,” had “saved thousands of lives.” He said the county is “gratified that the Court once again saw through Calvary’s unsupported claims and found them meritless.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rating: 1.3/5. From 13 votes.
Please wait...