A defiant church in California has been hit with thousands of dollars in fines after refusing to halt indoor worship services.
According to Mercury News, North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara has been fined $15,000 for defying the county’s coronavirus health order.
The staggering figure is the largest coronavirus-related fine levied in the county to date and is comprised of two $5,000 fines for last Sunday’s morning and evening services and another $5,000 fine for their Wednesday night service.
“It appears for the moment that the fines have not stopped them from continuing the gatherings, and we’ll be looking at what other options we might have to take,” said County Counsel James Williams, who did not comment regarding further penalties should the church continue defying the order.
In a statement to the paper, Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Angela Alvarado said that the fines were levied against the church after receiving “several complaints and several requests to have the church be in compliance.”
Two days before the fines were issued, the county counsel’s office posted a nine-page cease-and-desist letter on the church’s door. The letter notified North Valley Baptist that they were in violation of the health order for holding indoor services, failing to compel congregants to wear masks and socially distance, and singing during services.
“North Valley Baptist’s violations are clear, repeated and unacceptable, and they endanger the health and safety of our community,” Williams and Deputy County Counsel Jeremy Avila declared in the letter.
Williams told Mercury News that the county has largely avoided issuing fines in favor of working with businesses to bring them into compliance.
“There just doesn’t seem to be recognition on the part of the congregation that they need to follow the law and that they’re contributing to harm in the community by holding an illegal gathering and doing so in willful defiance of the law,” Williams told the outlet.
Williams added that the charges against the church in the letter are based on anonymous complaints, North Valley Baptist’s own public statements, and a review of the church’s website and social media.
In a video statement issued Monday by the church, pastor Jack Trieber disputed the social distancing charge, saying that every other pew was left empty and that parishioners maintained six-foot distance from one another.
“We have the right to worship, and more than a right from the constitution, we have a right from God,” Trieber said.
“We found out that there are not 5,000, or 2,500 people that have died in our area of 2.1 million,” Trieber said on Monday. “We’ve not had 1000 people perish, or 900 or 800 or 700 or 500. We’ve not had 400 people perish. We’ve not even had 300 people perish. And by the way, one life, we know that, is valuable. We’ve had to this day 224 people pass away; 90 plus were in rest homes.”
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