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Judge issues order shutting down Ventura County church’s crowded, unmasked indoor services

A parishioner prays at a Palm Sunday service inside Godspeak Calvary Chapel.
A parishioner prays at a Palm Sunday service inside Godspeak Calvary Chapel, which has held large, indoor services for more than two months. A judge Friday ordered the services to shut down.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

A Ventura County Superior Court judge Friday granted a temporary restraining order against Godspeak Calvary Chapel and pastor Rob McCoy, forbidding the church’s indoor services and demanding adherence to statewide and local health orders aimed at slowing the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Since May 31, the Newbury Park church has held large, indoor services without masks or social distancing every Sunday. Ventura County health authorities sued Godspeak and McCoy on Wednesday.

McCoy said the services included “singing, hugging, no masks.”

“The Constitution is not a suicide pact. The exercise of individual liberties has to be consistent with public health, otherwise the one would cancel out the other,” Judge Matthew Guasco said, according to the Thousand Oaks Acorn.

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County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas said health guidelines must be followed so that business and schools can resume and “the most vulnerable in our community can be spared from the disease.”

The temporary restraining order will remain in effect until Aug. 31, when another hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled.

It is unclear how McCoy and Godspeak will respond.

“I will be meeting with our elder board ... to decide what we will be doing,” McCoy said in a text message.

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McCoy, who resigned as a Thousand Oaks City Council member after Gov. Gavin Newsom declared churches nonessential, previously described himself as “willing to go to jail” and “willing for [authorities] to take [his] building” rather than comply with the health orders, according to the county’s lawsuit.

“It is only a matter of time — if it has not already happened — before there is a significant outbreak of COVID-19 cases among the attendees,” said county Health Officer Robert Levin, who is listed as a plaintiff in the suit. The lawsuit came after members of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 this week to use court actions to enforce COVID-19 health orders.

On Thursday, Ventura County reported three coronavirus-related deaths. More than 8,000 positive cases have been reported in the county of nearly 850,000, and 82 people have died.

The order does not prevent the church from holding services: Godspeak can operate outside with social distance and masks or virtually.

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


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