California Pastor Promises to Keep Church Open Despite Governor’s Order: ‘We’re Going to Lose Our Rights’

Old Route 40 In Rocklin, California. October 2013 (Noah Loverbear via Wikimedia)

A California pastor has promised to keep his church’s doors open for worship, bucking a new mandate from the governor ordering houses of worship to close once again as cases of the coronavirus spike across the state.

Pastor Greg Fairrington of Destiny Christian Church in the northern California city of Rocklin announced last week that the church will continue to hold in-person services on Sundays. The announcement came one day after Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom reimposed restrictions on certain businesses and houses of worship in 29 counties, including Placer County, where Destiny is located.

“As a minister I have a Biblical obligation to have people come together to meet,” Fairrington told National Review, adding that while he is “not a constitutional expert,” he also believes California’s new restrictions violate the First Amendment.

“Never before in our history has the government shut the church down. We’ve been through wars, the Great Depression, all kinds of things, and we’ve never shut the church down,” Fairrington continued. “And so here we are with Covid, and we decided to shut the church down. We were good citizens.”

On Sunday, May 31st, Destiny Christian Church reopened with limited capacity when California lifted some social distancing restrictions. The church had been shut down for 11 weeks since March when the pandemic sparked lockdowns across the country.

Now, however, faced with a second order to suspend indoor services, Fairrington says he feels compelled to defy the directive and called on the governor to provide scientific data proving that people contract the coronavirus at a disproportionate rate at houses of worship.

“There’s just no scientific data,” the pastor said. “I would say to the governor, give us a chance.”

“I just don’t think at this point I can abide by that,” Fairrington said of the order. “If you read history, once the government takes rights away, they are never given back, and so I believe this is a moment we have to take a stand as a church.”

In the meantime, the church is following safety protocol, keeping the church to 25 percent capacity and worshippers six feet apart while providing sanitation stations and requiring face masks.

“We are a very safe environment,” he assured. “I guarantee you our place is cleaner than Costco or Target.”

Of potential legal challenges to his decision, Fairrington said the church will have to address such obstacles when they arise, but he noted that Destiny Church has “great personal relationships” with Rocklin’s city council.

“They’re our friends, and we’ve had open dialogue,” he said. “I’m not asking them to compromise their role. I never would do that, and so I know they have to respond a certain way … We want to be a blessing. We don’t want to be a burden to them.”

The city of Rocklin said it has reached out to Destiny Church and that “together we are working toward a solution where their services can be held and adhere to recently updated California safety requirements.”

“We do so many great things that help our county and help our schools and people who are underprivileged,” he said. “But we believe at some point we can’t kick this can down the road anymore. If we just keep on abiding, we’re going to have this conversation again in six weeks, six months, next year. We’re going to lose our rights.”

Fairrington said he is also looking towards the future and thinking of his two children and future grandchildren.

“I want them to experience the same America that I grew up in, and this is quickly becoming different than the experience I had when I grew up. I want them to enjoy all the freedoms,” he said.

“We are a hospital for all kinds of different people. The church is essential,” the pastor said. “I know these people, and they need the church in this moment.”

A number of other churches have adopted stances similar to Destiny’s, refusing to suspend in-person services in the wake of Newsom’s recent order. In May, the Supreme Court ruled 5-to-4 against another church, the South Bay United Pentecostal Church in the San Diego area, that attempted to defy Newsom’s coronavirus restrictions against gathering for church services.

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