Pastor defies health officials: Restriction on worship 'has nothing to do with the virus'

"We have to engage in the public square because this experiment in liberty which is God's idea, it has to be defended by the churches," says Pastor Rob McCoy. "We have to be the first to stand."

Updated: August 16, 2020 - 7:40pm

The battle to fight a global pandemic has morphed into a cultural civil war of sorts. While doctors continue their search to find a safe and effective cure for COVID-19, preachers are fighting their own war over limits to religious freedom. 

"Who would ever have thought you're standing on the front lines because you're going to church on a Sunday?" asks Pastor Rob McCoy of Godspeak Calvary Chapel. 

McCoy and members of his church in Newbury Park Calif., located an hour or so north of Los Angeles, are currently locked in a battle with county officials. They're fighting a temporary restraining order forbidding them to hold indoor worship services. McCoy held services this past weekend, in violation of the order. 

"I'm not being disobedient to anybody, I'm being obedient to God," McCoy says in a podcast interview for The Pod's Honest Truth with David Brody. "No government gets in the way of worshipping the one who created us. We're living on His dirt, breathing His air, drinking His water, eating His food, we're going to live by His rules."

On Tuesday, Ventura County government officials went to court against the church, hoping a Superior Court judge would order the local sheriff to close Godspeak Calvary Chapel. The judge said that was not necessary. Rather, the judge ordered a further hearing on the matter next week. Under statewide and local public health orders, indoor gatherings of non-essential activities are banned, including church worship services. 

"The best way to gather at this time is virtually or outdoors in accordance with state orders and guidance,” says Ventura County Public Health Director Rigo Vargas.

Pastor McCoy maintains that church, especially in these difficult times, is especially essential and having it outdoors is problematic. "Where are we going to go with 1,500 people?" McCoy asks. "And secondly, we've received death threats. We have protesters out here. We have a secure building on private property." 

McCoy sees something larger at play, citing California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom's embrace of the Black Lives Matter protests. "They want churches outside because they realized they didn't have a leg to stand on when they embraced the BLM riots," McCoy says. "The 14th amendment and an equal application of the law, they had to say, 'Well, okay, churches can meet, but outside just like the rioters.' Really?"

Pastor McCoy has been fighting this battle with the county in different ways since early April. At that time, he resigned his position on the local city council because he couldn't go along with plans to deem churches nonessential. He went on to hold worship services and communion during Holy Week, taking proper sanitary precautions. 

In late May, there were to be indoor attendance restrictions put in place by the county, and McCoy had agreed. But once he saw Governor Newsom embracing the BLM riots in Los Angeles, he'd had enough. 

"At that point, we said this has nothing to do with the virus," McCoy recalls. Coronavirus deaths in Ventura County as of Aug. 14 have totaled 94 in a population of roughly 850,000, for a death rate or about 11 per 100,000 population.

"We're watching the curve drop," McCoy says. "Everything about this pandemic is organized and directed towards one specific group of people: 65 and older with comorbidity, and we knew this, and the data proved it. … You don't quarantine the healthy, you quarantine the sick." 

McCoy says he knows of no one in the Godspeak congregation that has contracted COVID-19.

McCoy's church is emblematic of a larger nationwide pattern of churches fighting to express their religious freedom. There have been dozens of lawsuits filed by various churches claiming their First Amendment rights to religious expression have been violated.

"I think this is a gift from the Lord," says McCoy. "We have to engage in the public square because this experiment in liberty which is God's idea, it has to be defended by the churches. We have to be the first to stand."

As for McCoy and the parishioners in his church, they're ready for the fight ahead. As a matter of fact, the actual suit against Godspeak Calvary Chapel cities not only the pastor but 1,000 John Does; in other words, church attendees who decide to disobey the restraining order by simply showing up to church would be considered actual defendants in legal proceedings. The fine could be $1,000 a day and even time in jail. ( Jail Time & a $1,000 a Day Fine for Worship ) If that ends up being the case, McCoy has the perfect biblical analogy to encourage his flock. 

"The cool thing about lions is that when you're put in a den with them and you're on God's side, they just don't have a taste for your flesh," he says.

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