Coronavirus: Pastor Who Refuses To Cancel Services Met By Police

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Sunday, the pastor of the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, California, was greeted by several police officers in the parking lot about an hour before his intention to hold a service in person despite the restrictions of coronavirus.

Pastor Jon Duncan, whose small evangelical church rents space at Bethel Open Bible Church, arrived on Sunday morning, Palm Sunday, to find that Bethel, who had stopped serving in person on March 15, had changed the Building locks to keep worshipers from entering, Lodi police lieutenant Michael Manetti told The Times.

Duncan continued to organize in-person services for the Cross Culture Christian Center in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic.

“We will meet as often as possible, and we believe this right is protected by the 1st Amendment and should be considered essential,” Duncan said in an interview with KTXL-TV last week.

Duncan told the news station that the church had implemented security measures and encouraged social distancing.

“We are not a church that takes the virus lightly and we do not have the spirit to act recklessly,” said Duncan. “We believe that precautions should be taken. “

On March 25, Lodi police officers came to one of Duncan’s services on Wednesday and informed the pastor of county and state ordinances against the public meetings.

“It was strictly educational,” said Manetti.

The church has retained a lawyer from the Escondido National Center for Law and Politics, a conservative nonprofit Christian law center.

On March 27, lawyer Dean R. Broyles sent a six-page letter of cessation and forbearance to the city of Lodi, saying that the police “disrupted a peaceful and lawful worship service”. He told the city and its law enforcement officials to respect the church’s First Amendment rights.

“The church intends to meet this Sunday and all future Wednesdays and Sundays in the future,” said the letter.

But out of “true love and concern for their neighbor, in light of COVID-19”, the church implemented social distancing measures, called for regular hand washing and asked “elderly, sick or stay immune at home. “

Police posted a notice from Maggie Park, acting San Joaquin County public health worker, on Friday on the church building.

The letter, addressed to Pastor Michael Allison of Bethel Open Bible Church, said that Cross Culture Christian Church continued to use the facilities of Ham Lane and ordered the closure of its parking lot. Violating the emergency order, the letter said, is an offense punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Several police, including Manetti, arrived Sunday morning to make sure that Duncan’s church did not meet, said Manetti. “Bethel Open Bible Church had changed the door locks in response to this,” said Manetti.

The officers spoke to Duncan on the sidewalk about an hour before his shift started. The discussion “was quite cordial” and the officers gave him a copy of the county order, said Manetti.

While the officers were watching, more than a dozen cars tried to park in the parking lot and were ordered to drive around the corner.

Duncan spoke briefly with the people in each car and gave them printed copies of the scriptures, said Manetti.

“We understand the desire of people to practice their faith,” said Manetti. “But in church, people are usually closer to each other … shaking hands and singing.

“It’s for everyone’s well-being,” added Manetti. “We have to protect the public.”

In an interview with The Times on Sunday evening, Broyles, lawyer for Cross Culture Christian Center, said that Duncan did not know until Sunday morning that the locks had been changed by Bethel Open Bible Church.

“The owner did not tell my client that he was going to lock them up on the premises,” said Broyles. “They are not allowed to do so unless they are subject to an eviction process, and the governor currently has a moratorium on evictions.

“We view their foreclosure as a violation of the lease and a violation of the law.”

Broyles said he plans to send a letter Monday to Governor Gavin Newsom and San Joaquin county officials asking them to follow the lead of other states and to declare places of worship as essential services exempt from home stay orders.

He said he was also considering a federal civil rights lawsuit “based on the fact that the governor and the county are violating my client’s first amendment rights”.

“The right to assemble peacefully, the free exercise of religion and the freedom of expression are inalienable rights that are found in the 1st Amendment,” he said. “Constitutional rights are not suspended by a virus.”

Broyles said, “People have tried to compare health to faith,” saying that you have to choose one or the other. He called it a “false choice” and said the Lodi church was operating safely, implementing social distancing measures and asking elderly and sick worshipers to stay home and watch the service on Facebook. Live.

However, he said, the church in recent days has deleted its Facebook profile because it was inundated with “hate speech.”

On Sunday, he said, no worshipers fell ill. The church, he said, is trying to figure out how to go about future services.

Allison, senior pastor of Bethel Open Bible Church, said in an email to The Times on Sunday that her congregation disagreed with the Cross Culture Christian Center’s decision to continue the meeting.

“We hope that other members of our community, whether religious or not, will continue to follow the orders of the governor and those of the California state health worker,” Allison wrote.

“When the public health official issued an” order prohibiting a public meeting “, we immediately took steps to lock the building so that it was no longer accessible to any public meeting. … At the moment, we do not expect the CCCC to enter our building. “

Thousand Oaks City Councilor Resigned, Citing Decision to Hold Communion on Sunday in Church in Disregard of Stay-at-Home Orders to Fight the coronavirus epidemic.

Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, resigned Saturday night in a letter, saying he plans to violate orders that deem churches non-essential.

“As an elected official, I am in conflict, so I have to resign from the board,” he wrote in the letter obtained by The Times. “I have no desire to endanger our community and I will not do it. … However, this is described, know that I am obliged to do it. “



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