California pastor Mike McClure is refusing to shutter his church despite a wave of coronavirus regulations he says subvert the nation's founding principles.
"I think the shutdowns are an absolute violation of the centrality of our liberty -- and that is the freedom to believe, the freedom to express our belief, [and] the freedom to worship," he told Fox News on Thursday.
McClure has joined a growing list of religious leaders who are defying public health guidelines, maintaining that those restrictions infringe on their First Amendment rights.
McClure's Calvary Chapel San Jose faces more than $700,000 in fines from Santa Clara County, which he is currently battling in court. On Tuesday, a California Superior Court compouned his fines with a contempt order costing him $50,000.
County Counsel James R. Williams argued that McClure's church put people's lives at risk.
“Given the current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, it is absolutely vital for all individuals and entities to urgently and fully comply with all public health orders," Williams said. “These public health orders are literally a matter of life and death; they are designed to reduce COVID-19 transmission, avoid serious illness, and save lives. This entity’s ongoing violations put the whole community at risk, and they won’t be tolerated.”
The county prohibits indoor gatherings while allowing worship services to take place outdoors.
But McClure indicated that California leaders had betrayed the authenticity of coronavirus regulations by flouting them. He pointed to his mayor, Sam Liccardo, who recently apologized for breaking public health guidelines by attending a Thanksgiving dinner. California Gov. Gavin Newsom also apologized after he was seen ignoring official guidelines at an upscale French restaurant.
"This is tyranny masquerading as safety," McClure told Fox News.
He contended that he and his parishoners were doing "is just what makes sense logically, just like our governor or our mayor, who told everyone to do one thing, and they do what's logical, what's good for their family, they're making the best decision for their family. They're using good judgement and yet, they don't want anyone else to do that."
Referring to the second book of Timothy in the New Testament, McClure said that lockdowns pushed people towards a spirit of fear and mental illness. "Christ came to set us free from being enslaved to the fear of death," he said.
He added that COVID-19 wasn't something to fear as the survival rate is more than 99%. During the pandemic, the U.S. has had more than 15.6 million cases and nearly 300,000 deaths.
Some have argued that the government's solution was worse than the cure because of the massive job losses caused by lockdowns and Congress struggled to reach a compromise on another relief package, leaving many in difficult financial situations.
In September, the Pew Research Center reported that 1 in 4 U.S. adults had trouble paying their bills during the first six months of the crisis. Overall, about 16% of adults said they had problems paying rent or their mortgage. The American Association of Medical Colleges also said in October that 54 million people in the U.S. faced food insecurity during the pandemic.
McClure maintained that the government's restrictions on liberty were preventing people from being able to feed their families. While government executives have argued that their emergency powers grant them the ability to restrict certain activities, McClure argues that governments are asking too much in asking people to give up certain liberties.
While he acknowledged that Romans 13 directed Christians to obey governing authorities, he said the Constitution superseded politicians in that respect.
"When you have governors or judges or anybody who violates the Constitution," he said, "they are violating the law and they relinquish their position in leadership or law enforcement.”