Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, went before Ventura County Judge Vincent O’Neill, Jr., on August 21 to face a contempt-of-court-charge. The charge stemmed from an August 7 temporary restraining order issued by the court.
McCoy explained, while accompanied by his attorneys, “People need to be in fellowship… I never thought we would come to a place where our governor would declare our churches non-essential.”
The terms of the restraining order banned 1,000 Godspeak Calvary Chapel attendees from gathering for indoor worship services in Ventura County.
Judge O’Neill honored the temporary restraining order and McCoy’s contempt-of-court charge, and the church was fined $3,000 ($500 per service while under the court order). As Judge O’Neill handed down the penalty, he stated:
“The freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment, but I have a duty to uphold the court’s order. I find both Pastor Rob McCoy and the church in contempt of the County order. This was clearly willful disobedience, though well-motivated. I will impose on the Chapel a $500 fine for each of the six services, and will not impose a direct penalty on Pastor McCoy.”
The charges against the 1,000 church attendees were also dismissed from the restraining order.
McCoy explained the reasoning for his rejection of the restraining order.
“We [Newbury Park] have the lowest number of positive cases of COVID-19 of any residential area of Ventura County with the exception of Somis and Piru.”
“And,” he continued, “we’re open because we are essential … Our entire community has been devastated. Suicides have grown by five times, abuse has increased, substance abuse has increased. Sixty-five percent of restaurants closed will not reopen.”
This was the third court hearing in which McCoy has been involved.
County Supervisors Disagree Over Church Order
The first hearing was on August 7 where he was issued a temporary restraining order by Judge Matthew Guasco filed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors. It stemmed from a closed-door vote of 3-2 by the Supervisors, who stated that the county would begin to take legal action against any business, home, or place of worship that was not in compliance with the county health mandate.
Supervisors Steve Bennett, Linda Parks, and John C. Zaragoza are in favor of the restraining order against the church. Supervisors Bob Huber and Kelley Long opposed it.
McCoy and the church’s board of elders, however, voted to continue to remain open for indoor worship services despite Newsom’s July 14 closure order. McCoy expressed frustration over the governor’s decision to release prisoners from jail while pursuing legal action against houses of worship.
To date, according to Ventura County Probation Chief Mark Varela, there have been at least 190 adult prisoners released who will be returning to Ventura County. Around 8,000 inmates are eligible for accelerated release in the California prison system by August 31.
“These are folks that were going to come out anyway. They’re just coming out now,” Varela said.
Judge Sees Immediate Harm to Community
Judge Matthew Guasco, who granted the temporary restraining order on August 7, stated, “On a scale of 1 to 10 of the most immediate, irreparable harm possible, this is a 10. It doesn’t get much more immediate or irreparable than the threat that a lot of people are going to spread a contagious and deadly disease.”
McCoy disagreed. “You quarantine the sick, not the healthy,” he said. “Each one of those deaths is tragic and it breaks my heart, but so does the destruction of our community … The death rate in the county is 1/100th of 1 percent. We are traumatizing our children, ruining their education, and taking away … livelihoods. Families are burdened by this. You’ve closed their businesses.”
To date, McCoy states that his church attendees have had no recorded cases of any COVID contraction or spread.
One of McCoy’s attorneys, Nada N. Higuera of Tyler & Bursch, LLP, stated:
“Freedom of religion and the right to go to church, I never thought that in America it would even be a debate. It’s so fundamental to what it means to be an American.”
The Sunday after the restraining order took effect, thousands came to support the church. “If you’re over sixty, and you have some comorbidity issues, which we do—diabetes and former cancer—you may choose to either sit out here and listen to the service, or do it at home,” said congregation member Rick Herrera who listened to the livestream in his car.
Thousand Oaks resident Tim Toton, who describes himself as an atheist, came to the church to express his support for McCoy.
“It’s bogus orders based on unsettled science,” Toton asserted. “It’s an absolute government overreach stopping people from assembling and speaking and getting together and conveying ideas to each other.”