After taking drastic measures to try to ban indoor religious services for all houses of worship for more than a year, the State of California is now settling lawsuits with the churches that refused to have their First Amendment right to worship restricted during what the State deemed a prolonged public health emergency.
Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, however, will not be settling.
“We are moving this case forward with the clear understanding that other cases similar to Godspeak and Calvary Chapel San Jose are settling. However, we think it is extremely important to continue with our litigation [against the County] to understand the motives behind the shutdowns and expose them,” Godspeak attorney Robert Tyler told the Conejo Guardian.
“We think it is extremely important to continue with our litigation [against the county] to understand the motives behind the shutdowns and expose them.”Attorney Robert Tyler
Pastor Rob McCoy echoed this response during a May 13 livestream of his online program, Vintage McCoy, in which he said, “We requested in the discovery phase [of the cross-complaint] 120 documents; they gave us zero. They are brazen, and they don’t care. … These are public officials; there’s nothing secret about these things.”
The County of Ventura sued Godspeak in the fall of 2020 after McCoy opened the church’s doors on April 5, 2020, Palm Sunday, despite Governor Gavin Newsom’s attempt to prohibit all public gatherings.
“The lawsuit was a last resort to keep the public safe through adherence with State Public Health Orders in the height of the pandemic to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said a County spokesperson in a press release.
Nearly a year later, on April 13, 2021, the County dismissed its lawsuit against Godspeak, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Governor Newsom’s health mandates were unconstitutional.
A County press release explained, “Dismissing the lawsuit is an act of goodwill in acknowledgment of the loosening of indoor restrictions.”
But Godspeak attorney Tyler told the Conejo Guardian that “the county of Ventura and the state of California have been obstructionists and refused to provide us with the documentation we have requested through the process [of the cross-complaint]. We have motions to compel the state and county to produce all of the documentation we are seeking.”
McCoy, a former mayor of Thousand Oaks who has boldly preached against government overreach since resuming indoor services, filed a cross-complaint in May against both the County and the State, arguing that the health orders violate constitutionally protected liberties. He hopes to illuminate why the county and State acted as they did to help ensure it doesn’t happen again. However, on August 6, Ventura Superior Court Judge Henry Walsh tossed the church’s complaint.
“The court granted the demurrers of the State and County with prejudice, effectively dismissing Godspeak’s case against the County,” wrote county spokeswoman Ashley Bautista in an email to the Conejo Guardian. In legal terms, “with prejudice” essentially means the case cannot be brought back before the court but is permanently dismissed.
McCoy says the church plans to appeal, “without question.”
“They’re stating there is no longer an emergency, but they are mandating vaccines,” McCoy said in response to the judge’s dismissal of the church’s cross-complaint. “This is a battle. Look at the number of people who have lost their jobs, and the battle has just exponentially increased. My role as a pastor is in place. Folks don’t realize that this [vaccine mandates] is an iteration of the next step, and that next step is going to be exponentially worse.”
That next step, warned McCoy, is “totalitarianism.”
Che Ahn, leader of the Harvest International Ministry network of churches based in Pasadena, won a significant U.S. Supreme Court victory last year which struck down mandates that had closed churches.
“Rob is one of my heroes,” Ahn told the Guardian. “I just love him, and I thank God for his courage and boldness. … I personally have a conviction that every pastor should have opened up. … They should open up because we’re to be the light in the darkness, and if we’re not showing up, the dark is going to get darker. So I felt it was really crucial that we don’t forsake assembling together.”
For its part, “The County is very pleased with the court’s ruling, which the County believes is the right result in this case,” wrote a County spokesperson on behalf of assistant county counsel, Jaclyn Smith. “The court’s ruling was based upon the fact that the cross-complaint filed by Godspeak and its pastor Rob McCoy failed to state a cause of action against either the State or County and that there was no amendment to the cross-complaint which could cure those defects.”
However, “The ruling defies facts and law,” attorney Tyler told the Guardian in a written reply. “This case will be appealed, and, as a result, justice will be unnecessarily delayed. The fight is far from over.”
The attorney continued, “The ruling is incredibly short-sighted and defies 100 years of precedent. We will appeal. I have no doubt we will be able to continue prosecuting our claims against the County and State after the matter is resolved in our favor on appeal.
The State has already sought to reimpose restrictions affecting indoor worship, which hits at the heart of our request for injunctive relief. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that the County violated the rights of the Godspeak congregation and must be held liable so that governmental officials never trample on civil liberties again under the guise of a pandemic.”