The Office of the City Attorney in Pasadena, California issued a letter to Harvest Rock Church last week, warning that continuing to meet for church services against the orders of the governor will result in fines and up to a year of jail time.
Harvest Rock Church, located in Pasadena and led by pastor Che Ahn, has been holding in-person services in defiance of Governor Gavin Newsom’s orders against indoor church services.
“This letter is to remind you that violations of these Orders are criminal in nature,” the letter dated August 13th warned.
“Your compliance with these Orders is not discretionary, it is mandatory. Any violations in the future will subject your Church, owners, administrators, operators, staff, and parishioners to the above-mentioned criminal penalties as well as the potential closure of your Church.”
Criminal penalties include up to one year in fail and a fine for each violation.
In an interview with radio talk show host Eric Metaxas, Pastor Che Ahn explained that they were compliant with the California government when the shutdowns began. Then, when Governor Newsom allowed up to 100 members to gather, Ahn complied and opened his church – with a normal seating capacity of 1,250 – to 100 congregants at a time.
But it was Governor Newsom’s order against singing in churches that began to concern Pastor Ahn.
“When he said no singing,” Ahn told Metaxas, “it’s the first time – according to my attorney – that an elected government official has dictated to the church how to worship, which is a violation of the First Amendment.”
With the assistance of Liberty Counsel, Harvest Rock Church has filed a lawsuit against the California government for violating their First Amendment rights and for showing preferential treatment to protesters.
Despite heavy-handed dealings with churches eager to open their doors to congregants, Governor Newsom has encouraged the protests in his state that have gathered thousands of people at once.
“For those of you out there protesting,” Newsom said in June, “I want you to know that you matter. To those who want to express themselves…God bless you. Keep doing it. Your rage is real.”
That wasn’t the first time Newsom had given encouragement to protests in the midst of his COVID-19 shutdowns. Following demonstrations in late May, he released a statement thanking “community members who exercised their right to protest peacefully and encouraged others to do the same…”.
“I like to be nice,” said Ahn. “I don’t want to sue the Governor. But Jesus Himself overturned the money table, and you see righteous anger against injustice.”
Mat Staver, Liberty Counsel founder and chairman, compared Newsom’s orders “to repressive foreign regimes, not America where the First Amendment guarantees freedom of religion.”
“The church has been essential for 2,000 years,” Ahn told Metaxas. “We’re the ones who are needed during a time of extreme stress, depression, anxiety, fears, as well as spiritual well-being…. So in a time of crisis like the COVID-19 season that we’ve been in, for (Newsom) to lock down the church I feel has been very, very hurtful to our community and our state.”
The church’s lawsuit is requesting a restraining order against the Governor’s mandate to protect the church from enforcement until a judge has issued an official ruling.