Few people in the Bay Area have defied local health regulations as openly and fervently as Senior Pastor of San Jose Mike McClure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Congregants flocked to Calvary Chapel San Jose in their hundreds for his weekly indoor services, most without a mask, despite the Santa Clara County’s Public Health Ordinance banning these types of indoor gatherings. McClure has also held rallies on the steps of the local court after being charged with disregarding the court for continuing these services and fined nearly $ 2 million.
And at least twice, according to the District Attorney, a judge has scorned McClure and Calvary Chapel for disregarding those health instructions in court.
“This facility does not follow these safety precautions, does not care about our community or its own community,” said James R. Williams, Santa Clara county counsel.
Williams also said none of these fines have yet been paid.
While McClure and his staff circumvented the rules, federal records have shown that Calvary Chapel San Jose received US Small’s $ 340,400 in unsuccessful loans from the US Small’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) as part of the CARES ACT COVID relief package passed last year Business Administration has collected. This apparent contradiction annoys the district officials who have fought McClure and Calvary Chapel in court.
“It is disappointing that, on the one hand, they choose to purposely endanger the safety of people in our community during this time of crisis, and, on the other, they choose to do so [seek] Helping taxpayers run their business, ”said Williams. “This is about protecting our community. And it’s not just the meeting inside. There’s no face masking, no social distancing, no compliance (at Calvary Chapel) with any of the basic protocols that apply to everyone in our community, ”said Williams.
An analysis of millions of SBA records detailing PPP loan data by the NBC Bay Area investigative unit found that Calvary Chapel San Jose is one of at least a dozen places of worship in California that received taxpayers’ money while ignoring the county’s health mandates. In total, these dozen religious organizations accepted $ 5,929,602 in PPP funds, according to federal data.
- The Archdiocese of San Francisco, whose records show that it accepted $ 1,876,500 in PPP funds and that the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office has violated local health codes on multiple occasions. In one case, church officials are supposed to sanctioned a wedding last summer at the Church of Saints Peter and Paul, where guests entered through an underground car park. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the pastor of the church said the arrangements were not intended to hide the wedding.
- Then there is St. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco, where just last month the archbishop publicly said the church had broken health regulations by holding mass over a possible security threat nearby. St. Mary’s directly received $ 320,405 in PPP loan funds, according to SBA records.
- The Spring Hills Community Church in Santa Rosa, which has violated COVID-19 health rules on multiple occasions, according to Sonoma County’s health officials. Records show Spring Hills has accepted $ 186,300 in federal COVID aid funds.
- South Bay United Pentecostal Church in Chula Vista, a church that continues to meet indoors without a mask. South Bay United Pentecostal received $ 109,000 in PPP money, according to federal SBA records. The Church sued California Governor Gavin Newsome for health restrictions, and the case went to the US Supreme Court. In May 2020, the US Supreme Court became a request refused for an injunction against Governor Newsom to prevent the state from imposing restrictions on indoor gatherings.
- Then in February 2021 the The High Court ruled in part in favor of South Bay United Pentecostal However, Governor Newsom and the state were still allowed to impose certain restrictions on internal church meetings.
The US Supreme Court ruled that California churches can actually hold meetings indoors, but the state could limit those meetings to 25% capacity and prohibit chanting and chanting during these services.
These organizations did not respond within the NBC Bay Area deadline to comment on whether it was hypocritical to accept PPP funds from taxpayers while at the same time opposing local health orders.
In a written post on its website, Archbishop of San Francisco Salvatore J. Cordileone welcomed the February Supreme Court decision.
“As Christians, we are members of a church, which literally means people gather to worship God,” wrote Archbishop Cordileone. “This is our identity. It is in our nature to gather personally to give honor and glory to God. And especially as Catholics, we know that our worship cannot be broadcast live: there is no way to give communion or any of the other sacraments over the internet. “
Another church, Harvest Rock Church in Pasadena, filed a similar motion for restraining orders for itself and other California churches with the US Supreme Court in 2020. Harvest Rock in Pasadena received $ 311,241 in PPP money, according to federal records.
NBC Bay Area’s analysis of the detailed PPP data came after a U.S. district court ordered the publication of these detailed records in December 2020 a lawsuit NBC News filed the Washington Post and the Center for Public Integrity against the US Small Business Administration to request the records that the news organizations said were public.
The NBC Bay Area Investigative Unit searched millions of U.S. PPP records and found that at least 4,982 religious organizations in California, including churches, mosques, synagogues, and the like, had received $ 608,438,703.60 of PPP loans to keep small businesses alive during the pandemic.
in the A comment last May that appeared in the Washington PostA trio of constitutional law professors from Cornell University and the University of Virginia argued that churches were making conflicting claims by arguing they were eligible for PPP funding while saying they should be exempt from certain pandemic-related health ordinances.
“These two remarkable developments show the confused state of our constitutional rules regarding the relationship between government and religion,” wrote Professors Nelson Tebbe, Micah J. Schwartzman and Richard Schragger. “On the one hand, the churches argue that the clause on the free exercise of the First Amendment entitles them to special exemptions from assignments for staying at home. On the other hand, they also claim that churches can and must be treated like non-religious organizations in terms of taxpayer funding. “
They said it was the first time in the country’s history that taxpayers would subsidize the salaries of clergymen and church officials.
“Our main concern on this piece has been for churches to make contradicting constitutional claims in connection with the pandemic,” Tebbe said. “On the one hand, the churches advocated equal treatment of funding, especially PPP funding that the federal government made available to small businesses. On the other hand, they called for special exemptions from the COVID regulations that limited the size of the gatherings. “
When NBC Bay Area caught up with Calvary Chapel’s senior pastor Mike McClure during a rally in the Santa Clara County courthouse attended by dozens of supporters, few of whom were wearing masks or socially distancing themselves, the pastor defended his church’s actions .
“I don’t want to take the money,” said McClure. “This is your money, my money, our grandchildren’s money. I do not agree with it. At the same time, I have to pay all of our employees. And it’s not the church that took it, it was our school. “
When asked directly whether, as the Washington Post Op-Ed headline claimed, it was hypocritical for churches to defy government health mandates while taking government bailouts, McClure declined and denied the fight against Santa Clara County, even as he stood before the court in which he had attended a hearing on contempt.
“You said I was fighting the government. I don’t fight anyone. I want to help the government. I am a chaplain. I don’t fight anyone. You make me look like I’m crazy, ”McClure said.
“I think even churches are subject to state regulation, when that regulation is passed and justified,” said the Honorable Michael McConnell, former judge on the US 10th Circle Appeals Court and now director of the Stanford Constitutional Law Center and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford.
“The right to assemble and worship according to conscience is one of the most precious rights of Americans,” said Judge McConnell. “While the government is certainly allowed to make rational decisions about public health risks, it cannot do so on the assumption that religious worship is unimportant.”
“According to the constitution, the churches have the right to participate in neutral services. They can’t get the money because they are churches and they can’t be preferred if they get the money because they are churches, ”said Judge McConnell.
“But if they (religious institutions) do exactly what secular entities do and receive money, and for example, if they employ janitors and secretaries and do exactly what money is supposed to do, there is no reason why they shouldn’t receive a neutral subsidy “Said Judge McConnell.
“They are regulated for the same reason,” said Judge McConnell.
When asked if it was a contradiction of those churches that defied local government COVID health directives to also accept COVID aid from the federal government, Judge McConnell was brief.
“Well, let’s just be happy that hypocrisy is not a crime in this country or we would all be in jail,” said the judge.