SCOTUS Reiterates Its Open-Door Policy on Churches

March 1, 2021

It's a battle, Pastor Mike McClure said, that he "never wanted to be in." But it's a battle that God called him to fight -- and he knows it. Keeping his church open hasn't been easy, but then being obedient in the face of controversy usually isn't. Still, Pastor Mike pointed out, it's amazing when you do what's right how "the Lord just shows up." And late Friday, He wasn't the only one. The Supreme Court decided to weigh in too -- and the Christians of Santa Clara County couldn't be happier.

It's been more than three weeks since the Supreme Court ripped up Governor Gavin Newsom's (D-Calif.) worship ban. And even then, some liberal officials wouldn't comply. Santa Clara County decided that "indoor gatherings of all kinds remain very risky" and took it upon themselves to keep the churches closed despite what the justices had ordered. If people wanted to visit their churches to pray or take confession, that was one thing -- but actual worship services, the county argued, would have to wait.

Fortunately, that all changed this weekend, when six Supreme Court justices directed the last remaining holdout to fall in line. After the ruling in February, the attorneys at Pacific Justice Institute had argued, every house of worship from the Mexican border to Oregon were open at 25 percent capacity -- except for Santa Clara County. There, they sit "as an island of tyranny with zero capacity for indoor worship services." How is that fair, the churches asked? It isn't, Justices John Roberts, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and rookie Amy Coney Barrett agreed. In their short, unsigned order, they granted the pastors' requests and pointed out, not so subtly, that the issue should have already been settled. "This outcome is clearly dictated by this court's decision in the South Bay United Pentecostal Church v. Newsom," they wrote.

Local pastors celebrated. "My clients -- the churches -- are grateful to be able to open their doors again this Sunday after having been locked for most of the last 12 months," the Institute's Kevin Snider said with relief. "The Supreme Court has once again held that the right to freely exercise ones religion cannot be suppressed by government officials that care to stamp out religion during a pandemic," FRC's Legal Research Fellow Katherine Beck Johnson cheered.

At least for now, Pastor McClure and others in the county have seen their courageous stand pay off. As hard as things have been, Mike explained on last week's "Pray, Vote, Stand," by choosing to stay open and fight for others to do the same, he's had the best opportunity ever to share the gospel. "Many people have been coming to Christ... We've even had some great conversations with the prosecuting attorneys," he said. "We've just seen [God] at work in the midst of all that's going on..."

Even in the midst of the churches' persecution and millions of dollars in fines, he's watched people's lives undergo a miraculous transformation. He told the story of a county official, heading up suicide prevention, who was so depressed and discouraged that he was considering suicide. He wandered into Calvary Chapel San Jose one Sunday and not only received Christ -- but brought another friend the following Sunday who became a Christian too! "He was actually a part of our court brief saying that this is the best thing that ever happened in his life. And so as much as the church is being [oppressed] this is exactly where God wants us to be -- defining His love for a hopeless culture."

"I just think everywhere we go, when we open the doors, I see people blessed every week. And I told [the court], 'I can't think of one person who's died coming to church, but I can fill this courtroom 10 times over with personal testimonies of people who said they would be in a desperate place [without it]. The fruit of that, the blessing God has brought is evidence of that. Every pastor who's opened up can... testify of these exact same things. So, I'm telling you: God's at work -- and... if you open your church like we have, you will see it."