By Michael Hernandez
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
–Martin Luther King Jr.
NEWBURY PARK–”We are prepared to open on May 31st (Pentecost Sunday}”–said Godspeak Pastor Rob McCoy prior to Saturday’s May 9th rally at the Ventura County Government Center. “We have asked the Governor to re-open churches in Phase 2. We are prepared statewide to go ahead and open as an ‘essential service.’ We are going to open–churches up and down the state.
“We live in a constitutional republic. The authority (of those governing) is declared in the first three words of the Constitution: ‘We the People.’ The authority is the people. The government operates based on our consent; and there is no law restricting the free exercise of religion.
“We are declared essential by the Lord. There is a need for people to come and find community and encouragement in body-soul-spirit. We declare the church is essential.”
In another development: “hundreds of pastors, churches and ministries in California” have signed a Petition and Declaration of Essentiality, that is being sent to Governor Gavin Newsom demanding recognition that religious assemblies are ‘essential.’”
The Declaration states: “The Day of Pentecost is also known as the birthday of the Christian church. May 31, 2020 is the 1,990th anniversary of the original Day of Pentecost that occurred in the year A.D. 30. We declare that on May 31, 2020, or sooner, we will resume corporate worship as instructed in Hebrews 10:24-25.
“Facing the COVID-19 Pandemic, the Christian church and other faiths have been relegated to ‘nonessential’ status by governing agencies throughout the United States, But we, the signers of this declaration, believe and contend that gathering together in fellowship and worship is ‘essential.’
“As ministers of the Gospel, we have complied with the orders of governing bodies to cease meeting in-person as has been our practice for nearly 2000 years since the first Day of Pentecost. We respect the governing authorities and their role in public safety. However, the governing authorities have suspended our meetings indefinitely refusing to provide a date upon which we can lawfully commence our practice of worshiping God together in our houses of worship. While we are thankful to the governing authorities for the significant efforts made to protect the public from COVID-19, the remaining threat of COVID-19 is outweighed by the severe restrictions upon the free exercise of our religion that we deem ‘essential.’ We are committed to public safety and will follow reasonable guidelines established and applied to similarly situated organizations.
“Fundamental to the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion is the right to gather and worship. The First Amendment requires that the burden imposed on the free exercise of religion by narrowly tailored to serve the governmental interest in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
“The current governmental orders are not narrowly tailored because innumerable secular enterprises and places where people gather are deemed essential, including those that pose even greater risks of COVID-19 than religious assemblies.
“Now therefore, we declare that we will resume in-person religious assemblies beginning on the date of Pentecost, May 31, 2020 or sooner.”
To sign the petition to Governor Gavin Newsom and to read the entire letter written by Robert H. Tyler (Tyler & Bursch) as well as the factual background, legal arguments and conclusion go to this link: https://www.tylerbursch.com/religious-petition-to-governor-gavin-newsom/.
Tyler and Bursch, LLP, Attorneys at Law, have been serving religious organizations businesses and individuals throughout the country since 1995. The team has acquired a wide-ranging experience from extensive work in business, real estate, and land use to a broad variety of civil litigation. Robert Tyler and Jennifer Bursch founded Advocates for Faith and Freedom in 2005 to serve as a nonprofit legal ministry dedicated to protecting religious liberty and freedom in the courts and in the legal system regularly teaming up with allied attorneys nationwide to achieve this mission
(Editor’s Note: The Petition and Declaration are available to read and sign in Spanish at the website above.)
Meanwhile, Calvary Chino Hills Pastor Jack Hibbs is hosting a “Church Opening (Part II) Live Webinar on Wednesday, May 13th from 12-1:30 p.m. The zoom meeting will feature a panel of pastors talking about “re-opening” during the first hour of the program followed by 30 minutes of questions/answers. To register for the zoom go to: https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_Jk0wKlYTQju63doPRzqyzQ. Questions can also be sent in advance to: [email protected].
“We will be discussing churches opening with a panel of California pastors and informing you of protocols for opening that are being implemented,” said Pastor Hibbs. “Of course, you are going to lead your body as the Lord directs you. But perhaps as we meet and discuss, you will gain clarity regarding how your church should proceed?
“When and how do we meet and do what God has called us to do?” said Pastor Hibbs. “Where does the church come in? The church has been silent; but our local community has been spiritually starving. Are we willing to obey God? to get back to the business of church?
“Our calling transcends the politics of this world. We are a living breathing divine institution. We are sensitive to the weakest among us. We have sequestered for the common good; to protect the weak and those most vulnerable.
“We have been very obedient. First, it was our President asking for 15 days and then it was another 15 days and now in California we have been told that it could be another three to six months before we could open? We are like a can being kicked down the road.
“Yet, we are an asset to the community. People need healing now. We are called to teach and preach and to minister to the sick among us. We are called a house of prayer and this implies that people can come to pray.
“Pentecost Sunday is 50 days after Easter—the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is one of the highest Christian days of the church. We’re going to be praying for our governors, for our leaders, for our mayors, our county board of supervisors. The church was born in a house. We will restart the church in His house on Pentecost Sunday. I am calling this Church 2.0—an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. From California—revival might break out throughout this land.”
Fresno Cornerstone Church Pastor Jim Franklin: “It’s time to open these doors!”
“The idea that a church must be authorized (by government) reminds me more of Communist China than the United States,” said Fresno Cornerstone Church Pastor Jim Franklin. “These doors must be opened. It’s time to open these doors. Governor Newsom, open up these doors!
“There should be no quarantine on religious freedom. It is a pillar of America our God given rights. Our government may not impose special restrictions on religious activity even times of emergency. Federal law prohibits religious discrimination.
“Why can Walmart remain open? but churches cannot? Why are liquor stores and marijuana dispensaries open?
“Governor Newsom has overlooked the essential and critical nature of churches. His mandates are having a significant and detrimental effect. But restrictions have gone too far and for too long. Our ultimate desire is for the complete health of the individual—body, mind, and spirit. It’s time to open these doors!”
Pacific Justice Institute offers resources to “Re-Open Churches”
In less than an eight-day period, the Pacific Justice Institute (PJI) registered 1,200 calls in two separate webinars with Christian leaders asking legal questions on “How to Re-Open” their churches?
The Pacific Justice Institute founded by Brad Dacus with the help of U.S. Attorney General Edward Meese in 1997 has nine offices in five states with hundreds of affiliate attorneys across the nation. PJI handles religious freedom, parental rights, and sanctity of human life cases. There is no charge for their legal services.
PJI President Brad Dacus offers a 90-minute video (for those who sign-up) on the website on “Steps Churches should take to reopen safely and legally.” Likewise, the following protocols (with federal case precedent, federal guidelines, Center for Disease Control guidance, Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidance and state and local guidelines and input from pastors and Christian leaders) are on their website and all pastors are encouraged to register on the website prior to using them:
- Re-Opening for Drive-In Services: Checklist for Churches (13 Pages: 88 Steps):
- Re-Opening for Outdoor Services: Checklist for Churches (14 Pages: 96 Steps):
- Re-Opening for Indoor Services: Checklist for Churches (13 Pages: 99 Steps):
- Cleaning and Disinfecting Building Facility: 3 Pages (CDC Guidelines)
(Editor’s Note: Please see Citizens Journal editorial on Fear the Lord: The Blessing—A Call to Work: Is there not a Cause? Rejoice and Weep.”)
Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].