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This California church fought the state’s COVID-19 rules and won — at least for now

Calvary Chapel San Jose no longer owes around $200,000 in fines. Here’s why a state court ruled in its favor

SHARE This California church fought the state’s COVID-19 rules and won — at least for now

Illustration by Michelle Budge, Deseret News

A California church that met in-person during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic will no longer have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines after a state appeals court ruled Monday that the gathering rules it defied had violated religious freedom rights, according to The Associated Press.

The ruling in favor of Calvary Chapel San Jose cited a February 2021 decision from the U.S. Supreme Court, which said that California officials, including Gov. Gavin Newsom, unlawfully subjected houses of worship to stricter rules than other public gathering spaces.

“Since the arrival of COVID-19, California has openly imposed more stringent regulations on religious institutions than on many businesses,” wrote Justice Neil Gorsuch in that ruling. “When a state so obviously targets religion for differential treatment, our job becomes that much clearer.”

That 2021 decision was one of several in favor of churches and faith leaders that came after Justice Amy Coney Barrett joined the Supreme Court. Before that point, Chief Justice John Roberts had formed a majority with his liberal colleagues to uphold a variety of gathering rules affecting churches, as the Deseret News reported last year.

Although Calvary Chapel is now off the hook for gathering-related fines, its legal battle is still ongoing. County officials have said they believe the church is still on the hook for more than $2 million in fines related to rules that weren’t referenced in the Supreme Court’s decision.

“We will continue to hold Calvary accountable for putting our community’s health and safety at risk,” the county said in a statement, according to the AP.

Despite the county’s vow to keep the lawsuit going, the Rev. Mike McClure, pastor of Calvary Chapel, celebrated this week’s ruling in a statement released Monday.

“I thank God that our actions have been justified by the court,” he said. “We are here to help the hurting, save the lost and worship God without governmental intrusion.”