California landlord changes locks on church planning Palm Sunday service amid coronavirus lockdown

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A landlord in northern California changed the locks on a church over the weekend to prevent congregants from gathering on Palm Sunday amid a statewide stay-at-home order, according to a report.

Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, California, had continued to hold in-person services despite the San Joaquin County Health Department ordering it shut down last week.

Its pastor, Jon Duncan, argued the statewide stay-at-home order meant to curb the spread of the coronavirus, violated his constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

“We’re going to meet as often as we can meet, and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential,” Duncan said in an interview with Fox 40 in Sacramento last week. 

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But before Palm Sunday, Bethel Open Bible Church, the landlord for Cross Culture, changed the locks on the building. A small group of church members arrived for service but couldn't get in, San Francisco Bay Area’s Fox 2 reported.

"I'm not thrilled in general with the restriction on religious liberties," Jeremy Duncan, the pastor's brother, told Fox 2 on Sunday. "Especially during what is Christian's most holy week."

Lodi police officers first responded to the building on March 25 to notify the pastor about the county and statewide restrictions on public gatherings during the pandemic, the Los Angeles Times reported.

An attorney from National Center for Law & Policy, a conservative Christian nonprofit law center based in Escondido, is representing Cross Culture. He told the newspaper he’d send Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Joaquin County officials letters asking that houses of worship be considered essential services exempted from stay-at-home orders.

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Meanwhile, many churches around the country have switched to online worship during the Easter season. But pastors in states including Louisiana and Florida made headlines after they were arrested for holding services despite stay-at-home orders.