A church that serves as the landlord of The Cross Culture Christian Center, based in Lodi, California, changed the church’s locks after the pastor repeatedly allowed members to congregate, thereby defying shelter-in-place orders meant to combat the growing coronavirus outbreak.
The landlord, Bethel Open Bible Church, changed the locks sometime during the past week, KTVU reports. The change was made at the behest of the San Joaquin County Health Department, which ordered the church to shut its doors last week.
The locked doors meant some members who’d hoped to defy the shelter-in-place orders were stranded outside, and some weren’t happy.
“I’m not thrilled in general with the restriction of religious liberties,” said Jeremy Duncan. “Especially during what is Christian’s most holy week.”
Duncan’s brother, Pastor Jon Duncan had kept the church open despite the pandemic.
“We’re going to meet as often as we can meet, and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential,” he told Fox 40 last week.
The church has now retained a lawyer from a Christian nonprofit law center based in Escondido, California, and an attorney for the nonprofit told The Los Angeles Times that he plans to send a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom and San Joaquin County officials in the hopes that they will follow the lead of some states that have declared places of worship as ‘essential services.”
The attorney also said he’s planning a federal civil rights lawsuit “based on the fact that the governor and the county are violating my client’s First Amendment rights.”