By Michael Hernandez
SAN JOSE—Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Peter Kirwan ruled this afternoon that Calvary Chapel San Jose Pastor Mike McClure and Youth Pastor Carson Atherley were in contempt of court but suspended new personal fees they were facing provided a Social Distancing Plan would be submitted to the County by Feb. 19.
Attorneys representing Santa Clara County and Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody were seeking additional penalties of $120,000 against Calvary Chapel San Jose and $37,500 against Pastor McClure and $27,500 against Youth Pastor Atherley. Contempt fees of $27,500 against the church and the entire penalties given to both pastors were removed by the judge contingent on an acceptable Social Distancing Plan. Pastor McClure is the father of seven children and Pastor Atherley is father to an eight-month-old infant. Both households rely on pastor salaries for expenses.
Calvary Chapel San Jose is being changed $5,000 a day for noncompliance to wearing masks or social distancing. Total fees the church is facing have now mounted to $1.6 million.
“The court does not do this lightly,” said Judge Kirwan. “This has been a case of science vs. religion. I have approached this with an open mind but at the end of the day the rule of law has to be respected; even if you disagree with the County and State.
“The defendants received a valid court order. They had the ability to comply with that order and they willfully showed disobedience to that order.”
Pastor McClure asked to give a statement before the court prior to the judge issuing his ruling. He said: “I follow the example of Jesus Christ. I lay down my life for all the people. I (am called to) help people. It is (not my intent) to disregard the law. These rules are hurting people. I want to obey the court; but church is essential. People are dying on the street. Who is helping (them)?”
Calvary Chapel San Jose has an 18,000 square foot sanctuary building and has the capacity to seat 1,800 people. Pastor McClure says that Calvary has been meeting for in-person services since Pentecost Sunday on May 31, 2020 because it “cannot find an outdoor space large enough to accommodate its 800-1,000 attendees (approximately 400 to 500 per service) and outdoor services are also not feasible when you have to consider parking, childcare, restroom space, electricity and unpredictable weather conditions. Many religious activities like baptisms, one-on-one prayers, and communion are impossible to replicate online.
I have “been in contact with people who are suffering from anxiety, depression, and even thoughts of suicide. This is consistent with the increase of suicides and calls to the suicide hotline in Santa Clara County. For instance, the County experienced an increase of approximately 8,000 people who called the suicide hotline. Calvary’s services have provided a place of refuge for many hurting people in the County.”
The church legal brief filed by Tyler and Bursch and Advocates for Faith and Freedom presented a study conducted in Santa Clara County on COVID-19 that stated the infection survival rate is 100 percent among people between 0 and 19 years of age; 99.987 percent for people between 20-39 years; 99.84 percent for people 40-69 years of age; and 98.7 percent for people above 70 years of age.
Their legal brief presented 12 court cases and also cited legal code 42 U.S.C. Section 1988 in arguments which were made by attorney Robert Tyler in court department 19 today.
“I’m sad to see religious liberty disregarded when it has long been considered one of the most important, if not the most important right in the U.S. Constitution,” said attorney Mariah Gondeiro to the Citizens Journal last week following court testimony in which Pastor McClure said, “Do you want me to choose between God and man?”
(Editor’s note: To see San Jose Calvary Church legal brief: Opposition (conformed).)
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].