Lodi, CA Church Files Lawsuit After County Police Force the Pastor to Cease Conducting Easter Services

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On Palm Sunday, the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi was shut down by police for allegedly disobeying the state of California’s coronavirus health restrictions. Now, the Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi – along with Pastor Jonathan Duncan – have filed a lawsuit this month, claiming that Governor Gavin Newsom and local authorities are violating it’s fundamental rights.

As California Family Council previously detailed, on Palm Sunday, four Lodi police officers wearing masks and gloves showed up at the Cross Culture Christian Center on Palm Sunday with the express purpose of prohibiting Pastor Jonathan Duncan from conducting worship services that day.

According to the Sacramento Bee, the church and its pastor are arguing that Governor Newsom and the San Joaquin County public health officials overstepped their boundaries and abused their power.

“Civil rights are not suspended by a virus,” says the lawsuit filed in federal court in Sacramento. “Fundamental and unalienable rights are, by their very nature, ‘essential.’

“Yet the State of California has, in a sweeping abuse of its power, criminalized all religious assembly and communal religious worship while allowing citizens to gather at a liquor store, pot-dispensary, Planned Parenthood, Walmart, CVS, Costco, Home Depot, and many other locations which are deemed ’essential.’”

“If the church wanted to have a ‘drive-in service,’ which is also permissible under Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home executive order … it is prohibited from doing so by the April 3, 2020 county order. This absolute government ban on any and all of the church’s religious worship activity is ‘beyond all reason’ unconstitutional.

San Joaquin County had already issued an order on April 3, demanding that the church discontinue ‘drive-in-service[s],’ according to the lawsuit. 

The lawsuit alleges that the church is being specifically targeted, noting that a daycare center on the same church grounds is allowed to still continue operations.

The 51 page suit filed by the National Center for Law & Policy in Escondido also details that a purportedly ‘essential’ day care center on the church property is still allowed to operate. “The church is… banned even from making video recordings for church services streamed over the internet,” the lawsuit states.

“Churches continue to be protected from coercive government overreach, even during times of crisis, especially during times of crisis, by the free exercise of religion, free speech, and right to peaceable assembly clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” stated attorney Dean Broyles, the founder and president of the National Center for Law & Policy.  “The state simply does not have the jurisdiction to unilaterally shut down all church services indefinitely as Governor Gavin Newsome has done.  Under the U.S. Constitution, that important decision belongs to the discretion of the church alone.  The Constitution is the supreme law of the land that overrides any edicts that the governors or counties issue to the contrary.   By insisting that the state respect and honor their constitutional freedom, churches are in fact obeying the government.  Religious congregations don’t forfeit their fundamental rights, their unalienable civil liberties, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Therefore, we call on Governor Newsom and all California Counties to honor and respect our fundamental civil rights by granting churches religious exemptions from the sweeping stay at home orders, as other states have appropriately done, as this what is required by the Constitution.”  

“We love people and don’t want anyone to become infected,” stated Pastor Duncan.  “With the health and safety standards we have put in place we are a much lower risk of coronavirus spread than Walmart with its narrow aisles and everyone touching everything.”  Our church believes that during these fearful and confusing times that church community is an essential service.  People need God and the church needs fellowship now, more than ever.  

The NCLP’s cease and desist letter can be accessed here

As California Family Council previously noted, Alliance Defending Freedom, issued specific advice to leaders of churches who are concerned about the restrictions imposed on their ability to conduct church services. You can watch that video in it’s entirety here

As Lifenews noted, “Last week, three other California churches also filed a lawsuit against Newsom, a pro-abortion Democrat, after he exempted abortion facilities but not churches from his stay-at-home mandate.”

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