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Lodi Church Holds Palm Sunday Prayer In Parking Lot Days After Facility Is Ordered To Close Amid Coronavirus Crisis

LODI (CBS) – A Lodi church ordered to close and refrain from all physical gatherings during the coronavirus crisis went ahead with Palm Sunday prayer near the church parking lot after the locks were changed on the building where they hold mass.

Cross Culture Christian Church holds its services in the Bethel Open Bible Church facility. Bethel Church was ordered to close its doors after Cross Culture Christian Church continued to meet amid during the statewide stay-at-home order.

"We were greeted by the Lodi police department this morning. They advised us that the locks at the building had been changed," Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christain Center said. "And that entrance into the grounds even over the line of the driveway was going to be a citation."

On Sunday, Duncan began greeting church-goers at their cars to pray and hand out the sermon for that mass on pieces of paper. It was a situation some parishioners couldn't believe.

"To hear that the locks had been changed that's just not it's no constitutional," Danielle Harvey said. "It's against everything that this country stands for."

The Lodi Police Department told CBS13 that Duncan could've been cited if the mass went on as planned.

"The church intends on continuing to safely gather for worship during Christianity's most holy week, exercising unalienable and fundamental rights protected by the First Amendment's right to peaceably assemble, freedom of speech, and the free exercise of religion, while simultaneously observing CDC recommended COVID-19 social distancing guidelines.  The U.S. Constitution is not suspended by a virus," said Dean Broyles, president and chief counsel of the National Center for Law & Policy.

Broyle said that the church board will review options if they wish to continue to gather and defy the stay-at-home order. He also told CBS13 that he has a different issue with the locks on the building being changed.

"In violation of their lease and in, actually, of the current order from county and state. No landlord is to evict their tenants at this time. But they've effectively evicted by being unilaterally locked out," Broyle said.

The Lodi church isn't the only one catching flak for holding mass.

Pastor Doug Bird told CBS13 his Roseville church, Abundant Life Fellowship, also continued to hold mass despite the stay-at-home order.

Palm Sunday was the last day of mass. Bird said his choice to only do live-streamed masses wasn't solely made based on the order but to protect his church.

"When you threaten our church and our ministry that we are going to spear you. We're going to make sure nobody ever forgets this. It's not fair to the church. It's not fair to you guys," Bird said during Sunday's mass.

The churches say they understand the severity of the virus. They believe that they should still be able to gather despite the local and state orders.

"I am a complete and 100 percent supporter of social distancing," Duncan said. "But we don't believe that a virus suspends the first amendments."

Broyle also said that he plans on sending a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom to consider making churches essential or have exemptions – something that's already been done in Texas and Florida.

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