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Churches pushing back against purple tier restrictions

Posted at 5:36 PM, Nov 18, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-18 20:38:35-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV)- A spokesperson for the County of San Diego said over two days, they have received approximately 580 complaints of businesses and entities not following the proper restrictions under the purple tier.

The county has already sent out dozens of cease and desists orders since Monday. That includes at least two churches, Foothills Christian Church and Awaken Church, but the warnings are not stopping some churches from shutting down indoor operations.

Since the pandemic began, Awaken Church has received two cease and desist letters. Once in July for its Balboa Campus, and the latest on Monday for the Carlsbad location, but it appears the church has no intentions of shutting down indoor services.

A statement posted on the church’s website said in part, “In keeping our First Amendment right, we will continue to minister to those who are the most affected by all the COVID-19 lockdowns. Specifically tending to those who are struggling with depression, anxiety, hopelessness, suicidal thoughts, and addiction.”

Bishop Arthur Hodges is a Senior Pastor at South Bay Pentecostal Church. As bishop, he oversees more than 100 churches in Southern California, including 25 in San Diego County.

“About 50 percent are electing to remain indoors for worship,” he said. “About 30 percent are outdoors, and 20 percent are online only.”

Hodges has taken the fight to stay open to the U.S. Supreme Court once, and it about to again, hoping a ruling could benefit all houses of worship nationwide.

“We are filing either today or tomorrow back in the Supreme Court to reopen churches and for our constitutional guarantees to be recognized,” he said. “We are hopeful for an expeditious ruling, and we think it’ll be favorable to churches, and that’ll affect churches not only in California but across the nation.”

A county spokesperson said if a cease and desist order is ignored, the next step would be a closure order. After that, law enforcement is asked to get involved by giving citations with a thousand dollar fine for each violation; then the case goes to either the San Diego District Attorney or City Attorney.

In a video posted to the Awaken Church website in August, two church pastors explained why they believe religious services are essential, explaining the risks to their congregants’ mental health.

It’s something we’ve heard from other religious leaders, like the lead pastor of Skyline Church, Dr. Jeremy McGarity.

“We can’t stand by and not help people,” said McGarity. “We realized we can protect the most vulnerable and have services at the same time. We saw the huge rate of suicide ideation that went through the roof.”

Hodges said he understands the pandemic is serious and can be deadly.

“One of my daughters is a nurse at a local San Diego hospital and works with COVID patients, and I have two very near and dear personal friends who have died of COVID, so we know this is real, but we need to keep things in balance and perspective,” said Hodges.

He urges every house of worship to take the necessary precautions but believes churches can stay open and stay safe at the same time.

“We have zero cases, zero cases in our local church as a result of being on the church campus,” he said. “Churches are absolutely essential.”

ABC 10News reached out to both Awaken Church and Foothills Christian Church for comment but have not yet heard back.