FIRST ON FOX – A California church that continued to hold services in defiance of county health orders that it close down during the COVID-19 pandemic has had its fines dropped after a nearly two-year battle.

"This is a significant victory for churches and pastors across this country," Robert Tyler, president of Advocates for Faith & Freedom, said in a press release after the California Court of Appeal reversed an injunction against Calvary Chapel San Jose. "We are honored to represent pastors and churches who are willing to take the heat in defense of liberty because it benefits everyone."

At issue was the church's refusal to comply with health officials in Santa Clara County, who obtained a temporary restraining order and injunction in November 2020 against Calvary Chapel and two pastors, Mike McClure and Carson Atherly, after the church failed to follow pandemic health orders that included restrictions on in-person services, mask mandates, and a submission to the county of the church's social distancing protocols.

County officials were able to successfully argue that the Santa Clara County Superior Court should hold the church and its pastors in contempt of court and to impose fines.


Pastor Mike McClure speaks at podium at Calvary Chapel

Pastor Mike McClure at Calvary Chapel San Jose (HKCREATE) (HKCREATE)

But the ruling didn't change anything for Calvary Chapel, which continued to defy the orders and injunction on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment, leading the superior court to once again hold the church and McClure in contempt of court and issue monetary sanctions, adding Atherly to the order as well.

The defiance eventually resulted in over $200,000 in fines for the church, which continued to hold worship services as the monetary penalties mounted.

Calvary Chapel's persistence eventually paid off. The California Court of Appeal reversed the injunction, contempt orders, and fines on Monday.

"For the reasons stated below, we conclude that the temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional pursuant to the recent guidance of the United States Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment’s protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice," the court said in the ruling. "As the underlying orders which Calvary Chapel violated are void and unenforceable, we will annul the orders of contempt in their entirety and reverse the orders to pay monetary sanctions."


McClure celebrated the ruling, saying that the county orders represented an "intrusion" on the church's religious liberty.

"I thank God that our actions have been justified by the Court of Appeal," McClure said in the release. "We are here to help the hurting, save the lost, and worship God without governmental intrusion."

However, the church's legal battle does not end with the case. Santa Clara County is still attempting to enforce $2.8 million in fines that it unilaterally levied against Calvary Chapel for violating county health orders. That case is currently making its way through the federal court system.

"The state Court of Appeal ruling should foreshadow the expected outcome in federal court," attorney Mariah Gondeiro said in the press release. "We expect complete victory in the end."