Members of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, Calif., found themselves locked out of the building just before their Palm Sunday service as the landlord changed the locks on a church over the weekend. He did it to prevent congregants from entering the church amid a statewide stay-at-home order.
The small evangelical church leases space in Bethel Open Bible Church and its pastor Jon Duncan was greeted by several police officers in the parking lot about an hour before the service, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The officers made sure Duncan's church did not meet and spoke to Duncan on the sidewalk about an hour before his service was to begin. The pastor had continued to hold in-person services despite the San Joaquin County Health Department ordering it shut down last week.
"We are not a church that takes the virus lightly nor do we have in our minds to act reckless," Duncan told the news station. "We believe that precautions need to be taken." He added that the church had implemented safety measures and encouraged social distancing.
Duan said to Fox news that the shelter-in-place orders violated his freedom to assemble. "We are going to meet as often as we can meet, and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential," Duncan said in an interview with Fox 40 in Sacramento.
In an interview with The Times on Sunday evening, Broyles, the attorney for Cross Culture Christian Center, said Duncan was not informed before Sunday morning that the locks had been changed by Bethel Open Bible Church. "They don't have the right to do that unless they go to an eviction procedure," Broyles added.
"I'm not thrilled in general with the restriction on religious liberties," Jeremy Duncan, the pastor's brother, told Fox 2 on Sunday. "Especially during what is Christian's most holy week."
The attorney also told Los Angeles Times that he'd send Gov. Gavin Newsom and San Joaquin County officials letters asking that houses of worship be considered essential services exempted from stay-at-home orders.