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Newbury Park church holds indoor services in defiance of judge’s order

Demonstrators at Godspeak Calvary Chapel on Sunday after its pastor defied a judge's order against indoor services.
Rival demonstrators gather Sunday in the parking lot of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park after Pastor Rob McCoy defied a judge’s order and held indoor services.
(Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times)

Minor scuffles erupted Sunday morning between rival demonstrators outside Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, which welcomed congregants in defiance of a judge’s order forbidding indoor services as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.

Some protesters carried signs: “This church endangers all” and “Jesus preached outside — why can’t you?” On the opposing side, signs called for religious freedom and denounced Gov. Gavin Newsom as a communist.

While services were underway inside, 100 to 150 people were gathered in the church parking lot and the surrounding area, said Capt. Eric Buschow of the Ventura County Sheriff’s Office. By late morning, the pro-church demonstrators appeared to far outnumber those who had come to protest the services. Buschow said no arrests had been made at that point.

“We have deputies on scene right now, just addressing issues with minor scuffles,” Buschow said. Video footage showed pushing and screaming but no serious injuries.

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The church has held indoor services since late May, and county healthy authorities have complained that parishioners have not been using masks or practicing social distancing as they pack inside.

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to enforce health orders with court actions, and last week a judge issued a restraining order against the church, saying the gatherings were a menace to public health. The next hearing on the matter is scheduled for Aug. 31.

In the meantime, Pastor Rob McCoy — who resigned in April as a member of the Thousand Oaks City Council after the governor deemed churches nonessential — has said he will defy the court order, declaring that the county’s crackdown is “an ideological issue,” not a health issue.

“Really, all we’re doing is having church,” McCoy said Saturday on the church’s YouTube channel. “Folks are coming out of the woodwork to support us.”

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McCoy warned parishioners that authorities might cite them for violating a Ventura County judge’s order, however. Some parishioners have said they would happily frame such citations, but he told them not to take it lightly. He said citations could stay on their record and have consequences, such as endangering their ability to hold a concealed-carry weapons permit.

Still, he said, “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.”

“They shutter our businesses,” he added, “destroy our families, they remove our children from schools, traumatize them emotionally and now they release convicts into our county. And now they’re coming to prosecute a church. We haven’t had one case of COVID in our church. We’ve been open since May 31.”

The Sheriff’s Office said Sunday it had not been citing people.

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“We’re aware of the situation and the court order,” Buschow said. “We have not issued any citations today, nor do we plan to at this point.”

Churches across California have been whipsawed by state closure and reopening orders, as church events have been tied to coronavirus outbreaks.

The tension between safety and faith has coalesced in the suburbs of Southern California. The controversy over rising cases of infection and deaths related to the coronavirus has not stopped some residents from packing in-person services.

In May, Riverside County was quick to rescind stay-at-home orders and was among the largest proponents for reopening services.

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When Newsom in July called for the suspension of indoor in-person services for the second time, some churches ignored the order, while others moved their services outdoors to sites such as parking lots.

Times staff writer Stephanie Lai contributed to this story.


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