Calif. church locked out of building by landlord to stop it from holding services

Reuters/Marcos Brindicci

A church in California was locked out by its landlord after the congregation opted to hold services despite a state order against gatherings.

Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi was unable to hold a planned service on Sunday due to its landlord, Bethel Open Bible Church, changing the locks on the building.

Jeremy Duncan, brother of Cross Culture Pastor Jon Duncan, told local media outlet Fox 2 of Oakland that he took issue with the restrictions on in-person worship.

“I'm not thrilled in general with the restriction on religious liberties,” said Duncan, “especially during what is Christians' most holy week.”

Last week, the San Joaquin County Health Department ordered Cross Culture to close down in response to concerns over spreading the coronavirus.

Duncan told KTXL last week that his church planned to continue holding gatherings, which had a reported average worship attendance of around 30 people.

“The church, the assembly of God is the people of God gathering together,” said the pastor to KTXL, “regularly gathering together for the teaching of God's Word, praying, worship, baptism, communion and fellowship.”

Duncan also told KTXL that they were not taking “the virus lightly nor do we have in our minds to act reckless,” with sick members told to stay home and services having spaced out seating and hand-washing stations.

“We are 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 added.

Last month, the church was visited by officers with the Lodi Police Department during a Wednesday evening service, telling them to respect a state stay-at-home order.

As a result, the church has sought legal representation through the Escondido-based conservative law firm the National Center for Law & Policy.

In a statement released last week, NCLP President Dean Broyles argued that California “does not have the jurisdiction to unilaterally shut down all church services indefinitely.”

“Religious congregations don’t forfeit their fundamental rights, their unalienable civil liberties, even during the COVID-19 pandemic,” stated Broyles.

“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.”

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