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California pastor continues to hold church services despite coronavirus ban, citing First Amendment

California church holds services despite state ban

A California church now has a public nuisance notice posted on its front doors for failing to comply with the state's public health stay-at-home order. CBS Sacramento reports that Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi has continued to hold his church services inside the South Ham Lane house of worship with parishioners gathering together for his sermon.

"I want to let people know that we as a church, we love people, we understand that the virus is a serious issue," Pastor Duncan said. "We do believe this right to meet is upheld by the First Amendment."

The pastor told Lodi police of his plans to stay open. Officers entered a church service last Sunday explaining the state orders to close.

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  Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, California.  CBS Sacramento

"It was chilling on free speech at that point because it was clear that we were going to have to do something different and or face the consequences," Duncan said.

Patricia Wilcox lives next door to the church. She wants their services to end for everyone's safety.

"I mean we're all seniors here, this is a senior apartment complex," Wilcox said. "We've closed down all of our meetings here."

Sacramento-based civil rights attorney Jeffrey Kravitz says the church's First Amendment argument is one that has not been tested in a public health crisis like this one.

"It is absolutely not an easy question," Kravitz said. "How long does the emergency exist? At what point can we say there is no longer an emergency? No one knows the answer to these questions."

The pastor says no one in his congregation has tested positive for the virus.

"I do understand the stance that we're taking, and not everybody's going to understand it, but I do believe it is the right one," Pastor Duncan said.  

He's hired an attorney to formally request the state of California to give churches exemptions from the stay-at-home order. The church also sent a cease and desist letter to the city.

A number of other churches around the nation have continued to hold services in defiance of bans.

In Louisiana, buses and cars filled a church parking lot for another service Tuesday evening as worshippers flocked to hear a pastor who is facing misdemeanor charges for holding services despite a ban on gatherings. And in Florida, a pastor was arrested Monday at his home, one day after his church was packed with worshippers in violation of a "safer-at-home" order. 

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