CA Court Fines Church $1M For Welcoming Worshippers During Authoritarian Lockdowns

P. Gardner Goldsmith | April 17, 2023
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In a ruling that might shock observers not only for its disconnection from the state constitution, but also for its dismissal of free association, a California judge has found a San Jose church guilty of violating 2020 Santa Clara County lockdown edicts and has ordered the house of worship to pay the government $1.2 million in fines for holding maskless services.

Susannah Luthi reports for The Free Beacon:

“Superior Court judge Evette Pennypacker ordered Calvary Chapel San Jose to pay $1.2 million in fines to Santa Clara County for violating the county's COVID-19 restrictions. Pennypacker's decision is the latest development in a lengthy legal battle between the church and the county, which imposed some of California's most stringent pandemic restrictions.”

Adding insult to injury, Pennypacker provided a heavy dose of non-scientific nonsense to go along with it, writing:

"…it should appear clear to all—regardless of religious affiliation—that wearing a mask while worshipping (will) protect others while still exercising your right to religious freedom."

Those of us who have not been blessed with the towering hubris displayed by Pennypacker might have a hard time discarding the knowledge that it’s incredibly arrogant for a political authority to claim someone ELSE can exercise his right “to religious freedom” under masking conditions that the political authority dictates. Some of us might mistakenly cling to the decrepit idea that the right to religious worship was supposed to be free of government strings – in this case, strings attached to masks.

Luthi continues:

“Pennypacker's ruling cuts against an increasing consensus that mask mandates had neither legal nor scientific merit. The Supreme Court in 2021 struck down California Gov. Gavin Newsom's (D.) ban on indoor worship services, which lasted longer than the state's forced closure of strip clubs. A February study that found masks did almost nothing to stop the spread of respiratory viruses, such as COVID-19, has been called ‘the scientific nail in the coffin for mask mandates.’"

This practical information has been available for a long time. But the principles of private property, free will, and freedom of association stand, regardless of the risk and the situationally designated ability of something imposed by authorities to “decrease the risks” of engaging in voluntary association.



Even if the masks had been 100 per-cent effective, and the virus 100-times more deadly, the decisions to gather on private property with others who also freely decide to do so are purely our own – always. And those decisions are replicated with each new opportunity to voluntarily associate with others on private property.

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By definition, the presence of private property designates the area as under the private control of a person who has a right to welcome or deny entrance to anyone based on his or her safety protocols. Likewise, each potential visitor can decide for himself or herself if the safety protocols promised by the owner are to his or her liking.

What this judge and what all the politicians and bureaucrats have done with their lockdown mandates, mask mandates, and fines has been to collectivize everything that should, morally, practically, and ethically, be private, forcing their preferences on others.

And any person with a modicum of alacrity easily could expose the absurdity of the political edicts by flipping the disease narrative.

Hypothetically, let’s say there appeared a terrible, easily transmitted disease, and a bowling club owned its own alley, where they had stringent testing protocols for visitors and titanically high standards for the cleanliness of the interior, etc.

Would it be acceptable for a bureaucrat, politician, or judge to mandate that the club must admit anyone, lower its standards, or engage in risky behavior that the owners do not think is wise?

Or should the government leave ‘em the heck alone?

The liabilities and ownership decisions should be ours, solely, as owners of ourselves and our property -- as owners of our preferences regarding how we will voluntarily interact. Fraud and injury are person-on-person, to be handled with respect.

But government does not respect private property or private persons. Government is not a person, and cannot claim tortious damage, yet this judge demands that these people -- who already are forced to pay for the court system via California taxes – this judge demands that these folks running Calvary Chapel in San Jose also must pay a penalty to the government for… aggressively harming no one.

Writes Luthi:

"The church's legal saga began in May 2020, two months after it was shuttered in the initial wave of COVID lockdowns. Pastor Mike McClure announced he would open his doors to congregants, many of whom say the ability to attend church saved them from addiction, despair, and possibly death. Calvary Chapel's lawyers said they are appealing Pennypacker's decision to a California appellate court.”

And that’s just part of the fight for Calvary Chapel. They have for over a year been involved in another legal action, which already is in the federal courts, and aspects of it reveal the shocking extent to which agents of the government have been willing to breach our rights.

“The church has filed a separate federal lawsuit against Santa Clara officials that is pending in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Court documents in both cases reveal that Santa Clara County mounted rigorous surveillance of the church and its individual members, even tracking members' movements through cell phone data and paying researchers to analyze the results.”

The government thugs claim they are protecting “public” health.

There is no such thing. The term “public health” is a consequentialist, individual-negating euphemism that is internally inconsistent and self-defeating. The word “group” simply is a term applied to gatherings of more than two people, and those people do not blend into a gel when meeting. They always remain individuals, and to claim that the state can sacrifice one person for the “betterment of the group” immediately puts at risk every individual in that government-designated “group,” undermining the safety of them all.

It's a non-starter, but it’s the foundational, rights-destroying, idiocy of government “public health” edicts.

Judge Pennypacker can ask any student who has taken a “Law and Economics” class, and she will get the same reply: each time the government preys on the rights of one for the “sake of the whole” every individual comprising that government-designated “group” is threatened, and the cycle begins anew, each time the government decides it will sacrifice another person, as if engaging in some kind ceaseless Aztec ritual.

Related: Chicago Threatens To Condemn - Possibly Demolish Churches Defying Lockdown | MRCTV

In fact, numerous American politicians such as Gavin Newsom acted more like witch doctors than people who respect individual rights. And though it might shock of many contemporary Americans to discover the truth that the First Amendment only applies to Congress and actually allows states to interfere with speech and religious gatherings, Newsom should know that the California Constitution overtly forbids the state government from interfering in free speech or practice of religion.

Gavin Newsom didn’t seem to care. And Judge Pennypacker appears just as disinterested in that final, important fact.

On appeal, this case might ask the members of the Ninth Circuit, and, eventually, the Justices of the US Supreme Court, if they care.

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