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US Pastor who refuses to cancel Sunday services greeted by police

09:15  06 april  2020
09:15  06 april  2020 Source:   latimes.com

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- The embattled Tampa megachurch pastor who was arrested Monday after leading packed church services the day before -- despite social distancing orders from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office -- says he is canceling this coming Sunday 's services . Pastor Rodney Howard-Browne has posted

On Sunday, the pastor of Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, Calif., was greeted by several police officers in the parking lot about an hour before he intended to hold an in-person service despite coronavirus restrictions.

An empty parking lot at Bethel Open Bible Church, which leases the building to the Cross Culture Christian Center, is shown in Lodi, Calif., Sunday, April 5, 2020. Cross Culture Christian Center, a church in California's Central Valley that said it intended to still gather for worship, canceled its plans Sunday when someone changed the locks to the building. Pastor Jon Duncan told congregants who drove to the church for Palm Sunday service that the building the church uses for services was shut. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu) © Jeff Chiu/AP Photo An empty parking lot at Bethel Open Bible Church, which leases the building to the Cross Culture Christian Center, is shown in Lodi, Calif., Sunday, April 5, 2020. Cross Culture Christian Center, a church in California's Central Valley that said it intended to still gather for worship, canceled its plans Sunday when someone changed the locks to the building. Pastor Jon Duncan told congregants who drove to the church for Palm Sunday service that the building the church uses for services was shut. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Pastor Jon Duncan, whose small evangelical church leases space in Bethel Open Bible Church, arrived Sunday morning, Palm Sunday, to find that Bethel, which stopped having in-person services on March 15, had changed the locks on the building to prevent his congregants from entering, Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told The Times.

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Duncan had continued to hold in-person services for Cross Culture Christian Center amid the coronavirus outbreak.

"We're going to meet as often as we can meet, and we do believe that this right is protected by the 1st Amendment and should be considered essential," Duncan said in an interview with KTXL-TV last week.

Duncan told the news station that the church had implemented safety measures and encouraged social distancing.

"We are not a church that takes the virus lightly nor do we have in our minds to act reckless," Duncan said. "We believe that precautions need to be taken."

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On March 25, Lodi police officers came to one of Duncan's Wednesday services and told the pastor about county and state orders against public meetings.

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"It was strictly educational," Manetti said.

The church retained a lawyer from the Escondido-based National Center for Law & Policy, a conservative Christian nonprofit law center.

On March 27, attorney Dean R. Broyles sent a six-page cease-and-desist letter to the City of Lodi, saying officers had "disrupted a peaceful and lawful worship service." He told the city and its law enforcement officers to respect the church's 1st Amendment rights.

"The church intends to meet this Sunday, and all future Wednesdays and Sundays in the future," the letter said.

But out of "genuine love and concern for their neighbor, in light of COVID-19" the church has implemented social-distancing measures, called for regular hand-washing and asked the "elderly, sick or immune compromised to stay at home."

Broyles said in a statement to The Times: "The U.S. Constitution is not suspended by a virus."

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On Friday, police officers posted a notice from interim San Joaquin County Public Health Officer Maggie Park on the church building.

The letter, addressed to Pastor Michael Allison of Bethel Open Bible Church, said Cross Culture Community Church was continuing to use the Ham Lane facility and ordered it and its parking lot closed. Violation of the emergency order, the letter said, was a misdemeanor offense punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Several police officers including Manetti arrived Sunday morning to make sure Duncan's church did not meet, Manetti said. "Bethel Open Bible Church had changed the locks on the doors in response to this," Manetti said.

Officers spoke to Duncan on the sidewalk about an hour before his service was to begin. The discussion "was fairly cordial," and officers gave him a copy of the county order, Manetti said.

As officers watched, more than a dozen cars tried to pull into the parking lot and were directed to drive around the corner.

Duncan spoke briefly with the people in each car and gave them printed copies of Scripture, Manetti said.

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"We understand people's desire to practice their faith," Manetti said. "But at church, generally people are closer to one another … shaking hands and singing." "It's for everyone's welfare," Manetti added. "We have to protect the public."

A Thousand Oaks city councilman has resigned his post, citing his decision to hold Communion at his church Sunday in defiance of stay-at-home orders in place to battle the coronavirus outbreak.

Rob McCoy, pastor of Godspeak Calvary Chapel, submitted his resignation in a letter Saturday night, saying he planned to violate orders that deem churches nonessential.

"As an elected official I am in conflict and thus must tender my resignation from the council," he wrote in the letter obtained by The Times. "I have no desire to put our community at risk and will not. … However this is portrayed, please know I am obligated to do this."

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Val-de-Marne: The charred body of a woman discovered, her spouse in police custody .
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