NEWBURY PARK, Calif. (KTLA) — A California church held indoor worship service Sunday morning despite a judge’s temporary restraining order that bars the church from doing so in a bid to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
As worshippers poured into Godspeak Calvary Chapel for a 9 a.m. service, a crowd swelled outside, with those rallying in support of the church clashing with counter-protesters.
Video showed an unmasked man holding an American flag facing off with another man in a mask who was carrying a sign that read: “God can hear you from Home! Don’t be Freedumb.”
The masked man taps the sign on the other man’s head, prompting him to pull the sign away, starting a scuffle that ended with a woman being kicked to the ground.
Ventura County Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Buschow said about 100 to 150 people were gathered outside, and several “minor scuffles” broke out during the protests. No injuries were reported, and no one was arrested.
Those rallying in support of the church could be seen holding up signs with phrases such as “1st amendment right to assemble” and “stop the tyranny,” while counter-protesters’ signs included one that read: “This church endangers us all.”
The vast majority appeared to be there to support the church.
The church, located in Newbury Park, was put under the spotlight after it was sued by Ventura County officials who accused it of threatening public safety by repeatedly holding indoor services with more than 200 people.
Officials also alleged that Pastor Rob McCoy and other members have not worn masks and even sometimes “encouraged the violations” of the mandate.
A court on Friday granted a temporary restraining order requiring the church and McCoy to have religious services only outdoors, and with congregants wearing masks and practicing physical distancing.
But the pastor later announced the church will defy the orders, calling the measures taken by the county “draconian” and encouraging followers to join.
McCoy led the service in defiance of coronavirus health orders Sunday.
A livestream of the service showed McCoy and a musician without masks speaking to a crowd of at least two dozen worshipers, most of whom were also not wearing masks.
It was not clear from the video how many were gathered inside and whether they were standing 6 feet apart.
Buschow said the Sheriff’s Department was monitoring the situation, but nobody was there to issue citations.
In a Saturday video, McCoy said people knew they could be cited but were willing to come to the services.
“A lot of people been calling in saying, ‘I can’t wait to receive it so I can frame it,’” he said of the citations.
He warned followers that getting a citation might put them at risk of losing their concealed-carry weapons permits and getting a permanent mark on their record, but said people are “prepared.”
“Considering that our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor — a citation it’s serious but it’s not the end of the world,” he said.
The church maintains that the indoor gatherings are no danger and that they’ve had no coronavirus cases so far.
Places of worship were among several places ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom to stop indoor activities in mid-July, as coronavirus cases surged statewide and hospitalization rates reached all-time highs.
As of Friday, Ventura County had 8,146 people who have tested positive for the virus and 89 people who have succumbed to the illness.
The county is one of 37 being monitored by the state for increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases that state officials believe are partly being driven by virus spread at gatherings and workplaces.
(Information from KTLA.com)