A Pasadena, California, prosecutor is threatening the leadership and members of Harvest Rock Church with fines, up to a year of jail time, and closure of their congregation altogether if they continue to hold in-person church services.
In mid-July Gov. Gavin Newsom directed houses of worship, gyms, hair salons and several other indoor venues to close in the counties on the state’s “County Monitoring List,” citing the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in those localities.
Newsom said the counties on the monitoring list make up about 80 percent of California’s population.
Churches are grouped into what the governor described as “non-critical” sectors.
Multiple churches, including Harvest Rock in Pasadena (located in Los Angeles County), did not comply, citing their First Amendment freedoms.
Harvest Rock senior pastor Che Ahn said at the time, “As a pastor, I believe we’ve been essential for 2,000 years.”
The congregation, along with over 160 others in California with which it is affiliated, filed a lawsuit last month seeking an injunction against enforcing Newsom’s order, not only with regard to indoor worship services, but others he has issued prohibiting singing during church gatherings and banning meeting in private homes for Bible studies.
Religious restrictions in the nation’s most populated state are drawing attention from around the country.
Last week, Harvest Rock received a letter from the Pasadena city prosecutor’s criminal division threatening jail time and fines for every in-person church gathering it holds going forward.
“This letter is to remind you that violations of these Orders are criminal in nature,” the document states. “Each day in violation is a separate violation and carries with it punishment up to one year in jail and a fine for each violation.
“Your compliance with these Orders is not discretionary, it is mandatory. Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the potential closures of your Church.”
The religious freedom group Liberty Counsel, which is representing Harvest Rock, noted in a news release that while Newsom and the Pasadena city prosecutor are taking aggressive steps to deprive churchgoers of their First Amendment rights, officials have been very accommodating toward protesters in causes that liberals favor.
“The City of Pasadena, like Gov. Gavin Newsom, encourages thousands of people to gather for mass protests, but now consider in-person worship to be a criminal offense,” Liberty Counsel chairman Mat Staver said in the release.
“These actions of the City of Pasadena and Gov. Gavin Newsom are akin to repressive foreign regimes, not America where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion. The First Amendment erects a wall which the state may not breach to close churches and incarcerate pastors and parishioners.”
Greg Fairrington, lead pastor of Destiny Church in Rocklin, California, was among those who disregarded Newsom’s order last month and held indoor services.
“If I read history right, and I think I do, once the government takes rights away, even in a crisis like this COVID, you don’t get them back,” Fairrington told The Western Journal at the time. “When does government get to decide when we meet, where we meet, and what we do when we meet?
“The Constitution says, ‘Congress shall make no law …’ So it’s just a continued infringement on the church rights: Our right biblically and our right to the Constitution.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution states, in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …”
Tim Thompson, the founding pastor of 412 Church Murrieta in Riverside County in Southern California, said in July that he agreed with Fairrington’s assessment regarding the First Amendment.
“This has everything to do with understanding that we live in a democratic republic, and there is a concept of the separation of church and state,” Thompson said.
“That we wouldn’t have the church being mandated by the state on how we worship God, where we worship God, what time, what manner.”