Minor scuffles erupted Sunday morning between rival demonstrators outside Godspeak Calvary Chapel in Newbury Park, which welcomed congregants in defiance of a judge’s order forbidding indoor services as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus.
Some protesters carried signs reading, “This church endangers all” and “Jesus Preached Outside — Why Can’t You?” On the opposing side, signs called for religious freedom and denounced Gov. Gavin Newsom as a communist.
While services were underway inside, 100 to 150 people were gathered in the church parking lot and the surrounding area, said Ventura County sheriff’s Capt. Eric Buschow. By late morning, the pro-church demonstrators appeared to far outnumber those who had come to protest the services. Buschow said no arrests had been made at that point.
“We have deputies on scene right now, just addressing issues with minor scuffles,” Buschow said. Video footage showed pushing and screaming but no serious injuries.
The church has held indoor services since late May, and county healthy authorities have complained that parishioners have not been using masks or social distancing as they pack into the church.
The Ventura County Board of Supervisors voted 3 to 2 to enforce health orders with court actions, and last week a judge issued a restraining order against the church, saying the gatherings were a menace to public health. The next hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for Aug. 31.
In the meantime, Pastor Rob McCoy — who resigned as a member of the Thousand Oaks City Council in April after the governor deemed churches nonessential — has said he will defy the court order, declaring that the county’s crackdown is “an ideological issue,” not a health issue.
“Really, all we’re doing is having church,” McCoy said on the church’s YouTube channel on Saturday. “Folks are coming out of the woodwork to support us.”
McCoy warned parishioners that authorities might cite them for violating a Ventura County judge’s order, however. Some parishioners have said they would happily frame such citations, but he told them not to take it lightly. He said citations could stay on their record and have consequences, such as endangering their ability to hold a concealed-carry weapons permit.
Still, he said, “considering that our founders pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, a citation — it’s serious, but it’s not the end of the world.”
“They shutter our businesses,” he added, “destroy our families, they remove our children from schools, traumatize them emotionally, and now they release convicts into our county. And now they’re coming to prosecute a church. We haven’t had one case of COVID in our church. We’ve been open since May 31.”
The Sheriff’s Office said Sunday it had not been citing people.
“We’re aware of the situation and the court order,” Buschow said. “We have not issued any citations today, nor do we plan to at this point.”