Lodi church locks changed by landlord, as Cross Culture Christian Center files to have it considered an essential service amid coronavirus lockdown.
Is God an essential service?
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, amid the ongoing coronavirus epidemic.
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.
‘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.
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.’
Lawyers argue Lodi church landlord acted illegally:
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.
Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told the latimes that Bethel Open Bible Church changed the locks after a warning order from San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Maggie Park that explained holding services would be a misdemeanor offense, punishable by fine or imprisonment.
‘We understand people’s desire to practice their faith,’ Manetti told latimes. ‘But at church, generally people are closer to one another…shaking hands and singing.’
Dean R. Broyles, an attorney Cross Culture Christian Center has retained, argued that the Bethel Open Bible Church’s decision to lock worshippers out of the church was illegal.
He told the latimes 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.
‘The landlord did not inform my client that they were going to lock them out of the premises,’ Broyles told The Times. ‘They don’t have the right to do that unless they go to an eviction procedure, and the governor has a moratorium on evictions right now…We view locking them out as a breach of the lease and a violation of the law.’
“Especially during this time of sickness,” said Jackie Haro, one of the congregants. “I really believe this is something we need to do – to congregate.”
“We don’t believe that a virus cancels the First Amendment,” Jon Duncan said.https://t.co/59I9BEBEpj
— Deane Galbraith (@dorhamidbar) April 6, 2020
Despite coronavirus lockdowns- some churches persist in offering services claiming first amendment rights.
While many Christian denominations and religious groups across the country have urged churches and places of worship to comply with state and federal social distancing guidelines during the pandemic, some congregations have drawn criticism for pushing forward with services.
The Awaken Church in Jonesboro, Arkansas has insisted that it will continue to hold services amid the pandemic. But unlike California, the Arkansas governor made an exception for religious services in his stay at home order, citing the separation of church and state.
Chad Gonzales, a lead pastor at Awaken Church, told Newsweek last week that his congregation ‘certainly would have complied’ if the state government had required them to cancel services.
Other church leaders around the country moved forward with holding Palm Sunday services despite coronavirus concerns.
‘We don’t get our rights to worship freely from the government, we get those from God,’ Reverend Tony Spell of Life Tabernacle Church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told CNN over the weekend. ‘We’d rather obey God than man.’
Spell has continued services despite being charged multiple times last week for violating the state ban. Spell is one of a few pastors in his home state and in Florida who have made headlines after they were arrested for holding services despite stay-at-home orders.
Meanwhile, many churches around the country have switched to online worship during the Easter season. A state of affairs many in the secular community have expressed ‘Christians’ consider respecting and compromising given the ongoing coronavirus public health risk which they argue needs to be contained if the epidemic is to be passed.
Posted one individual on Twitter: ‘Good on the landlord for changing the locks. The pastor’s brother had the nerve to whine about their religious liberties being violated. We’re in a fxxking health crisis you moron. Your religious liberties are null and void right now.’
As of Tuesday afternoon there have been 393, 782 contraction cases with over 12, 692 deaths.