A California pastor is now facing serious punishment after holding an Easter church service that was interrupted by dozens of police officers in tactical gear. If he is given the maximum penalty, he could be fined up to $1,000 and be placed in jail for up to six months. He also stands accused of hiding his congregants from the officers who arrived on the scene.
The Merced County Sheriff claimed to have been tipped off about the service. The service was not supposed to take place because it was in direct violation of the stay at home order that was put into place by the California governor. This Easter service took place at Iglesia De Jesus Cristo Palabra Miel on Weaver Avenue.
During the services, the law enforcement officials claimed that the doors were kept locked and the congregants were asked to park out of view. Meanwhile, Pastor Fernando Aguas is claiming that no one was looking to avoid the police. They simply parked in the park to avoid any additional issues.
“We weren’t hiding,” says Aguas. Since there were children running around, Aguas did not want to risk any harm coming to them. People inside of the church were trying their best to adhere to the social distancing rules as well. Everyone kept to themselves but the pastor did readily admit that some attendees were not wearing masks.
The sheriff’s deputies that were dispatched to the church are accused of using excessive amounts of force to break up the service. In the pastor’s mind, they still have the freedom to assemble. Now, these rights are being violated. Aguas says that there was some level of confusion about the stay at home order. He thought that it was only a recommendation and not a requirement.
Sheriff Vernon H. Warnke’s recent press conference offered him the chance to address this controversy. According to him, the punishment fits the crime and this pastor needs to be held responsible for his actions. He put the health and well being of untold amounts of people in danger.
The whole congregation was placed in a precarious position, to say nothing of all the people that they could have potentially infected once they left the service. All it takes is one person who is infected to negatively impact the entire group. This is especially true when it comes to the coronavirus, as is this a virus that does not always come with obvious symptoms.
These types of gatherings need to be banned because of the exponential effect that they can have on the spread of the virus. While we understand people’s desire to worship and live their lives in the fashion that they are accustomed to, there is something to be said for putting the needs of others above our own.
Sheriff Warnke does not believe that the pastor’s First Amendment rights have been violated here. The court date for this case has been scheduled for August. Stay at home orders like this do not prohibit people from having freedom of speech or freedom of religion but they will need to go about it in a different manner than they are used to.
The health directives have been put into place for a reason. As for Attorney General William Barr, he says that the Department of Justice is taking a closer look at these types of issues. They do not want to allow any form of discrimination to take place at religious gatherings.
Governor Gavin Newsom and various other public officials are now facing a lawsuit. Three churches are making the same allegations that have been levied by the aforementioned pastor. They want their First Amendment rights to remain intact, even while these stay at home directives have been put into place.
If California residents are still able to visit the grocery store or the marijuana dispensary, why can’t they go to church? It’s a fair question, for sure. We are looking forward to the result of these lawsuits, as they are going to inform the way that we worship going forward. Health experts are predicting intermittent social distancing for the next few months, if not years.
What are the devoutly religious supposed to do until then? The concerns that are associated with the coronavirus are nothing to sneeze at but that does not mean that churchgoers should be left out in the cold. We hope that those who are looking to practice their faith are able to do so going forward. It is only right, after all. The next few weeks and months are going to tell an interesting story in this regard.