The pastor of a church in Lodi, California, discovered Palm Sunday that his landlord had changed the locks on his church after health officials and law enforcement ordered the building closed due to the coronavirus outbreak in California.
Pastor Jon Duncan, the pastor at Cross Culture Christian Center, who'd been defying local orders and kept the doors to his church open by holding in-person services, despite orders from health officials and law enforcement to close amid the outbreak. Duncan said that the 'stay-at-home' orders violated his freedom to assemble, KTTV reported.
However, when a small congregation arrived at the church on Sunday for services, they discovered the landlord for the church, Bethel Open Bible Church, had rekeyed the locks, preventing anyone from entering the building for Palm Sunday services.
"I'm not thrilled in general with the restriction on religious liberties," Jeremy Duncan, the pastor's brother told KTVU. "Especially during what is Christian's most holy week."
Last week on March 25, Lodi police officers went to one of Duncan's services and informed him that the county and state had prohibited such gatherings.
Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told KCRA that the church was Bethel's property and that there ultimately responsible for what happened there.
The San Joaquin County Health Department ordered the church closed last week.
The church has reportedly retained a lawyer from the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy, a conservative Christian nonprofit center. An attorney told the L.A. Times that he plans to send a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and ask they follow the example set by other states, like Florida, which has declared houses of worship as essential services.
“We don’t believe that a virus cancels the First Amendment,” Jon Duncan told KCRA.
California was one of the earliest states to issue 'stay-at-home' orders and close nonessential businesses in an effort to flatten the curve and curb the spread of COVID-19. The state has confirmed at least 16,000 cases and 388 deaths.