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California church that held services despite COVID lockdown wins major victory in court, still faces targeted harassment from county

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Pastors and other leaders of one California church are celebrating a recent victory from the court, as they remain wary of continued legal harassment from the county.

Santa Clara County officials leveled a bevy of fines against Calvary Chapel in San Jose, California, as well as against senior pastor Mike McClure and other associate pastors because the church continued to hold worship services in 2020 without mask mandates or social distancing requirements. In November of that year, the county successfully petitioned the county Superior Court to hold the church and its pastors in contempt of court for violating county lockdowns.

The church was once again held in contempt the following February, though there is no indication that services held at Calvary Chapel led to outbreaks of COVID infection.

On Monday, however, California's Sixth District Court of Appeal reversed those rulings and the $200,000 in fines assessed against the pastors and church, citing a U.S. Supreme Court decision from 2021 ruling that the ban on indoor worship imposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020 violated the First Amendment.

"We conclude that the temporary restraining orders and preliminary injunctions are facially unconstitutional pursuant to the recent guidance of the United States Supreme Court regarding the First Amendment's protection of the free exercise of religion in the context of public health orders that impact religious practice," the appeals court said in its ruling.

McClure told Fox News that the ruling was "a blessing for the First Amendment."

However, despite the recent legal victory, the pastor and the church remain firmly in the crosshairs of county health officials whose COVID restrictions the church ignored.

"Calvary did not dispute the fact of its numerous and serious violations during the height of the pandemic and before vaccinations were available," the county said in a statement. "We will continue to hold Calvary accountable for putting our community’s health and safety at risk."

According to a press released issued by Advocates for Faith & Freedom, the law firm that has represented Calvary in the lawsuits, the county is still attempting to collect $2.8 million in fines for violating regulations that the recent ruling may not have addressed.

Despite the daunting fines, McClure remains defiant.

"If it's jail time, I'm ready for whatever," McClure told Fox News. "Honestly, I'm not wanting to fight the county. I think that they just don't understand the Constitution."

One of his attorneys, Mariah Gondeiro, is likewise optimistic.

"The state Court of Appeal ruling should foreshadow the expected outcome in federal court," she said, according to the press release. "We expect complete victory in the end.”

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