Superior Court judge rules Godspeak Calvary in contempt; $3,000 fine; Ventura County drops sanctions against congregation members

By Michael Hernandez

VENTURA—Superior Court Judge Vincent O’Neal ruled today in two-hour hearing that Godspeak Calvary is in contempt of the County’s Temporary Restraining Order and will be fined $500 per church service held the last two Sundays, or a fine of $3,000.

“The freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment, but I have a duty to uphold the court’s order,” said Judge O’Neal. “I find both Pastor Rob McCoy and the church in contempt of the Superior County order.  This was clearly willful disobedience though well motivated. I will impose only on the Chapel a $500 fine for each of the six services and will not impose a direct penalty on Pastor McCoy.”

Robert Tyler counsel for Pastor Rob McCoy cross-examined the Ventura County Code Compliance officers and challenged their credibility for not wearing masks themselves for the full time they were present at church services the past two weeks to observe congregants whom they reported were not wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Tyler introduced evidence (two photos; one photo from Aug. 9 and the other from Aug. 16) showing the code enforcement officers not wearing masks when in their car; but putting on a mask when approached by people; or once services were concluded.

“None of the witnesses should be held credible,” said Robert Tyler, counsel for Pastor Rob McCoy. “Mr. (Miguel) Lagunas did not tell the truth about wearing a mask and the County has not proven their case beyond reasonable doubt.”

“I love my city. I love my county. I never thought we would come to a place where our Governor would declare our church is non-essential,” said Pastor McCoy during his courtroom testimony. “The church is essential. Our entire system of laws comes from the concept of morality. We live in a Constitutional Republic. If we remove the voice of the First Amendment, who is going to be the voice of the people?

“We (Newbury Park) have the lowest number of positive cases of COVID-19 of any residential area of Ventura County with the exception of Somis and Piru. We have ionizing machines and UV lighting and hand sanitizers inside the church. We have spoken to doctors (seven) and psychologists (two).

“We’re not a threat in any shape to our community. We’re open because of the great depression (in the community), because of business, family, substance abuse issues, suicide concerns. Our entire community has been devastated. Suicides have grown by five times. Sixty-five percent of restaurants will not reopen. We have abused wives sequestered with their abusers, abused children with their abusers.

“The church is essential. People need to be in fellowship. In at time of a pandemic, God is critical. I am a pastor. Allow us to worship. This is what I got to do.”

Assistant Ventura County Counsel Jaclyn Smith argued before Judge O’Neal that a contempt charge was required because four factors for contempt prevailed:

  1. The Temporary Restraining Order was valid and properly served to the defendant (Rob McCoy);
  2. Rob McCoy had knowledge of the order (noting it on social media);
  3. Rob McCoy had the ability to comply with the order; and
  4. Rob McCoy was in willful violation of the temporary restraining order and was not confused about the contents of the order.

Attorney Robert Tyler argued: “We are in the midst of an unprecedented time with an unprecedented order that starts from the Governor and goes down to the County Public Health Officer, Dr. Robert Levin.

“There are four different health officials sitting here (Dean Phaneuf, Doug Leeper, Miguel Lagunas, Kristi Green), who are holding that (Rob McCoy) is in contempt for violating an unconstitutional order. Yet, for six hours, they violated the same order they are attempting to enforce on Godspeak Calvary.

“Code enforcement fails to apply if you are in government or you’re the guy with the badge. These individuals abuse their own authority. They can’t be held credible. They say they protect the health and safety of the community but they violate the same rules.”

The Ventura Superior Court case attracted both local media (Citizens Journal, Ventura County Star, The Acorn) and four Southern California television stations (CBS 2, KTLA 5, ABC 7, KCAL 9). The case had 13 in the courtroom gallery (either media or witnesses) which was moved from Courtroom 41 to Courtroom 22 and was livestreamed.  Four declarations were received by Judge O’Neal: three from Ventura County and one from Pastor Rob McCoy.

The court case has generated international media with comments on the church’s YouTube channel posted from Australia, Cambodia, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland as well as nationwide.

The County had asked the court to impose maximum sanctions designed to ensure compliance of the State and County health orders against Godspeak of $1,000 for each violation (this was for each service held) of the court’s order and stated it was not recommending “monetary sanctions against Pastor McCoy” nor individuals attending church services. The request also included reasonable attorney fees which Judge O’Neal said needed to be determined later and outside of the order.  (Editor’s Note: To read the plaintiff complaint against Pastor Rob go to: Reply Brief

A declaration in support of plaintiffs’ reply to the order to show cause regarding contempt was submitted by Ventura County Code Compliance Officers Miguel Lagunas and by Kristi Green that give their personal observations from the 9, 11, and 1 p.m. church services held on Sunday, August 16. A report made on August 9 was filed by Doug Leeper and by Dean Phaneuf.

Jaclyn Smith (in court today) and Leroy Smith are the Ventura County attorneys representing Ventura County Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin. 

Attorneys representing Pastor Rob McCoy and Godspeak included: Jennifer Bursch, Nada Higuera, and Robert Tyler (in court today). In their court brief, they argued:

  • The Temporary Restraining Order Is unconstitutional (vague and overbroad).

“The First Amendment protects the ‘free exercise’ of religion, and fundamental to this protection is the right to gather and worship. (See W.VA State Board of Education v. Barnette.)

  • The Temporary Restraining Order should not have been granted because the underlying orders of the County and State are unlawful (the State of Emergency should have already been terminated; the Emergency Services Act is unconstitutional because it grants unbridled discretion to the governor over all liberty interests and fails to establish any termination or judicial review process; Judge Matthew Guasco’s reliance on Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 1905, was in error.)
  • The Temporary Restraining Order should not have been granted because the current conditions in California do not justify a compelling government interest or even rational interest for restricting religious liberties (based on the total population of Ventura County or 846,006, based on 7,953 total cases, .99 percent death rate and .18 percent death rate for those under the age of 65).

Attorneys for Pastor Rob McCoy concluded: “The Temporary Restraining Order is unconstitutional on its face and is founded upon orders that are unconstitutional. Defendant’s request a fully noticed hearing with expert testimony to present this data to the Court before this court issues any order of contempt. The science and data do not justify, even under rational basis review, closure of the Church services.

“A full trial on the merits, with experts to ascertain the data, is essential to the protection of the Church’s and Pastor McCoy’s constitutional liberties. The Church and McCoy request the right to cross-examine their accusers as to their assertions.” This was granted by Judge O’Neal. (Editor’s Note: To see the defendant’s full response go to:  Opp to OSC re Contempt

In a declaration of Rob McCoy in opposition to plaintiffs’ application for order to show cause regarding contempt: “Starting on Palm Sunday, April 5, 2020, the Church began holding in-person communion worship services. On April 4, 2020, I resigned from my posting as City Council Member of Thousand Oaks. I held this position from 2015.

“After having served my city and county as an elected official, I chose to step down from my elected office in order to avoid difficulty for my colleagues having been faced with a conflict of the state imposing an edict contrary to my ecclesiastical calling.

“My resignation from City Council and the Church’s opening for communion services on April 5, 2020 was covered extensively by the media, including almost every Los Angeles news channel, the Los Angele Times, and the Ventura County Star. I gave interviews to any of these as well as access to our sanctuary. Several news reporters came to the Church to observe and video the April 5, 2020 communion service.

“Around April 5, 2020, I was in communication with Ventura County Officials who knew of the Church’s resumption of worship services.  The Ventura County Sheriff’s Department came to the church to observe the April 5, 2020 service.

“I have seen the social media account of County Supervisor Linda Parks which has had postings about the Church’s non-compliance with State and County Orders for the past several months. I believe those orders are unlawful.

“On April 5, 2020, the County of Ventura Public Health Department had a compliance hotline voicemail message that said the following: ‘If you are calling in reference to the planned activities at Godspeak Calvary Chapel today, thank you. We are aware and we are investigating. County administration, public health and the public information officer will address the situation as needed.

“On Pentecost Sunday, May 31, 2020, the Church began holding multiple regular worship services indoors on Sunday morning. Thereafter, starting on June 7, 2020, the Church met at full capacity for 3 services every Sunday. From June 7, 2020 to date, the Church has had approximately 1,400 attendees collectively attending the three service at 9 am, 11 am, and 1 pm.

“The Church and I have a sincerely and deeply held religious belief that it is essential for Christians to assemble and regularly gather in person for the teaching of God’s word, prayer worship, baptism, communion and fellowship.

“I further believe that worship service plays a critically important component to the spiritual health and well-being of our congregation and even the community around us.  I am personally aware of numerous individuals in our congregation who have experienced significant emotional distress, depression, and anxiety during this difficult time of shutdown. Many members of our congregation have expressed the fact that our resumption of worship services has played an important role in sustaining their spiritual, emotional, and mental health.

“If we are forced to terminate indoor worship services, many congregants will not be able to attend outdoor services due to heat, sun, and other conditions. Many will not attend because they may be subject to the threat and harassment of protestors. Furthermore, termination of indoor services will result in a very negative impact upon the spiritual, emotional and mental health of our congregation.

“As of August 6, 2020, there have been no known COVID-19 cases from or connected to the church or myself. Not one Church attendee has contracted COVID-19. The Church intends on continuing to hold its in person, indoor services just as it has been doing for the past few months.

“There are several reasons it is not feasible for the Church to meet outdoors. A prominent member of our Church operations is allergic to the sun. It is difficult, if not impossible, to find a space large enough to accommodate 1,400 attendees each Sunday which also has restrooms, handicap access and accommodations, electricity, park and other practical considerations necessary to hold multiple church services.

“In addition, the Church does not meet outdoors because of security concerns. Since April 5, 2020, to date, protestors have gathered outside the Church building during services. There has been yelling and cursing of congregants. There have been death threats sent to the Church. Security is required every Sunday to prevent protestors and harassers from interfering with church services.

“Godspeak Calvary provides a variety of ‘indoor’ services to the community and to its members including counseling, teaching, training, benevolence, food and other social services the church believes to be essential for the spiritual and physical needs of the community and its members.

“Godspeak teaches that these acts of service are acts of worship of God. Worship to God is not only the act of gathering together in common on Sunday mornings for singing and teaching, but worship to God is living your life in a manner honoring to God.

“When providing these humanitarian services, Godspeak makes it a regular practice to pray continually when dispensing these social services. Teaching from the Bible is an indispensable component when providing counseling, teaching and training.”

The Ventura County Aug. 20 press release published by Citizens Journal on Thursday  stated: “On Friday, Aug. 7, the Ventura County Superior Court granted a temporary restraining order requiring Godspeak and Pastor Rob McCoy to adhere to statewide and local public health orders requiring church services to be conducted outdoors with masks and social distancing or online.

“COVID-19 continues to spread from person to person and at gatherings It is very important to follow the State’s guidance, so that the most vulnerable in our community can be spared from the disease. Churches and other community groups play a valuable role in the wellness of people in our community. We encourage people to stay connected, but to do so safely, said Public Health Director Rigo Vargas.”

“The Board (of Supervisors) further directed staff to reach out to the Church and Pastor again to try to identify a compromise that would achieve compliance. ‘This is a last resort effort. The County did not want to seek litigation for compliance. There are alternate locations available as parks throughout the County that will allow space for social distancing. Churches have been very creative in gathering safely. We hope Godspeak Church and Pastor McCoy will work with us to move their service outside during this time,” added Vargas.

“In Counties, like Ventura, which are on the State Monitoring List due to concerning rates of disease spread, the health orders prohibit indoors gatherings for a number of businesses, activities, and events to protect the health and safety of residents from contracting COVID-19.

“The best way to gather at this time is virtually or outdoors in accordance with state orders and guidance. The more we can work together to follow these guidelines the quicker we can get back to enjoying activities indoors,” added Vargas.

Meanwhile, Ventura County reported today 102 cumulative deaths from COVID-19 (but all but two deaths were due to comorbidity the presence of one or more additional conditions). The two that were not due to comorbidity were individuals aged 78 and 92.

Editor’s Note: From the County Information Officers, Deaths in the County of Ventura of August 21, 2020: We have had 102 deaths age range 29-107 years; 60 males and 38 females; all had comorbidities, except in a 94 year old male and 79 year old female. Each day we provide this information in our daily update in our e-newsletter, on our website and on social media. Page 6 of our dashboard at www.venturacountyrecovers.org has a table of the death information. 3 in ages 25-44, 14 in ages 45-64, 85 in ages 65 plus.

Likewise, 37 California Counties remained on the Governor’s Monitoring List and closed for in-person worship services.

Charlie Kirk, the founder and president of Turning Point USA, was announced earlier this week as the special guest speaker for the Aug 23 Sunday worship services during a Godspeak Fireside Chat. The Fireside Chats are held every evening at 7 p.m.

Pastor McCoy before the hearing

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].


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8 Responses to Superior Court judge rules Godspeak Calvary in contempt; $3,000 fine; Ventura County drops sanctions against congregation members

  1. Dave August 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm

    Paul and Silas were thrown in jail for preaching the gospel of Christ.
    Though in chains they praised his name, singing songs in the night.
    Just then an earthquake shook the place, and the chains and the doors were loosened.
    Then the jailer ran in, scared to death, and that day he found salvation!
    Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord!

    Reply
  2. Mike Smith August 22, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    DO NOT PAY (OR APPEAL) ANY FINE, Pastor McCoy/GCCTO Elders!

    Make the county ratchet up its response; make the mainstream media report this story further, to achieve coverage equality.

    Appealing or paying the fine will end any hope of a well-deserved VC government/Democrat optics nightmare. It also says, “Go ahead — violate our 1st Amendment rights.” The fine is a TRAP.

    Reply
  3. John August 22, 2020 at 6:13 pm

    McCoy will be having his usual three services Sunday.

    Reply
  4. Mike T Judge August 22, 2020 at 12:31 pm

    Appeal it!

    Reply
  5. Stu Hoffman August 22, 2020 at 9:48 am

    Perfect example of religious superstition and ignorance. They should jail this shaman immediately to prevent harm to the community.

    Reply
  6. Douglas W Blois August 21, 2020 at 9:39 pm

    When is the cross examination that the judge allowed going to happen?

    Reply
  7. John August 21, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    He is going to keep it up and end up in jail eventually.

    Reply
    • William Hicks August 22, 2020 at 12:56 pm

      John

      This kind of reminds me of when Emerson visited Thoreau in jail when Emerson asked him why are you in jail, Thoreau’s reply was “why are you out of Jail?”

      Reply

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