By Michael Hernandez
PASADENA—A Pasadena City Attorney has threatened to press criminal charges against Harvest Rock Pastor Che Ahn and the congregation over Sunday indoor worship services where congregants have been observed not wearing masks nor complying with social distancing rules.
Michael Dowd, Pasadena Chief Assistant City Prosecutor wrote in a letter sent to Pastor Ahn on Aug. 13: “We have information that your Church was conducting live indoor church services at the location where anywhere from 50 to 100 people or more attended. The people who attended these services were not complying with the relevant government orders concerning social distancing, or the wearing of protecting masks. All of these are violations of the law.
“Violations of these Orders are criminal in nature. Each day in violation is a separate violation and carries with it a potential punishment of up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation. Compliance with these Orders is not discretionary, it is mandatory.
“Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff, and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the technical closure of your Church.”
Harvest Rock Church is being represented by attorney and conservative activist Matthew Staver, of Liberty Counsel (founded in 1989 by Matt and Anita Staver, attorneys married to each other). ‘Mat” was a former dean at Liberty University School of Law.
Staver said a lawsuit was filed July 18 against Governor Gavin Newsom on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministries, which oversees 162 churches or affiliate organizations in California. Attorneys are asking a federal district court for a preliminary injunction against Newsom’s COVID-19 restrictions–especially the one barring in-person worship services. As of yet, no response has been received.
The ban extends to all counties on the State’s monitoring list (approximately 80 percent of California’s population). In the remaining counties, limited in-person worship is permitted, but singing and chanting are banned.
Liberty Counsel is a non-profit litigation, education and policy organization that provides legal counsel and pro bono assistance in cases dealing with religious liberty. Liberty Counsel has worked with more than 2,000 pastors in 44 states and has federal lawsuits pending against church-closing governors in five states.
CBN News reported on Aug. 12: “While Gov. Newsom encourages tens of thousands of people to gather for mass protests, he bans all in-person worship and home Bible studies and fellowship.
“Such repression is well known in despotic governments and it is shocking that even home fellowship is banned in America. Neither history of the church nor the Constitution is on the side of the governor.”
Pastor Ché Ahn, the pastor at the church located in Pasadena, Calif., told radio host Todd Starnes on July 21st that he wanted to maintain a good relationship with the city leaders so he sent them a letter stating that the church would remain open during the lockdown.
(Editor’s Note: To hear the 38-min interview between Todd Starnes and Che Ahn go to: https://www.toddstarnes.com/show/californias-governor-targets-in-home-bible-study/.)
CBS Los Angeles reported July 19 that Pastor Ahn has told his congregation to pray that the church emerges victorious in the court battle and said he believed that the church has been “essential for 2,000 years.”
(Editor’s Note: To read Larry Wilson’s opinion piece published by the Pasadena Star News asking Harvest Rock Church to “stop singing, protect its flock” go to: https://www.pasadenastarnews.com/2020/07/22/pasadena-church-should-stop-the-singing-for-now-and-pray-to-protect-its-flock/.)
Offering support to Pastor Che Ahn and stating that “Another Gideon stands in California,” is David Lane, of the American Renewal Project, in an email sent to pastors nationwide. “This seems as good a place as any to say to those across America who are sitting on the sidelines or in the stands that the battle for religious liberty and freedom has begun.”
The email goes on to quote the German theologian and Protestant Pastor Martin Niemoller (1892-1984) speaking against the Nazi regime during the late 1930s:
“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out; because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out; because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me; and there was no one left to speak for me.”
David Lane reminds his audience that Pastor Niemoller spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
“America has reached its kairos, its propitious moment for action. Slumbering through most of the 20th century, the Church abandoned Jesus’ public square ekklesia assignment directed by Matthew 16:18.
“The Church may have generated a Christian subculture, brimming with celebrity preachers with makeup compacts, massive building projects, bulky budgets, radio and TV presence, publishing houses. God-wants-you-to-be-happy and assorted feel-good messages, it still amounts to just a dolefully microscopic footprint in the culture.
“Consequently, grim challenges lie ahead as spiteful, irreverent blue state governors, mayors, and rabid prosecutors move from discrimination to persecution, pronouncing when, if, and how churches can worship. American Christendom finds itself at the start of a fight for freedom that will decide control of the public square over the first half of the 21st century.”
(Editor’s Note: To read story on Grace Community Church Pastor John MacArthur see:
https://www.citizensjournal.us/pastor-john-macarthur-prevails-as-judge-denies-la-countys-fourth-attempt-to-shutdown-grace-community-church/. To read the story on Godspeak Calvary Pastor Rob McCoy see: https://www.citizensjournal.us/superior-court-judge-rules-godspeak-calvary-in-contempt-3000-fine-ventura-county-drops-sanctions-against-congregation-members/.)
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].