Megachurches unite against governor's church guidelines, Fresno County supervisors threaten lawsuit

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Fresno County supervisors instituted the governor's new guidelines for churches, even though they all seem to hate the rules and could pursue a lawsuit over them.

Megachurches may be united in their opposition.

The People's Church sanctuary fits 1850 people on a normal Sunday, but since the coronavirus crisis started, it's hosted only an online service.

Under a new order from the governor, they could bring in a congregation of up to 25% capacity or 100 people - whichever is less - per service.

RELATED: California releases guidelines for churches, synagogues, mosques to open for in-person worship

Pastor Larry Powell says they've mapped out how to meet with social distancing and masks and other protections in place and they could safely do it with a lot bigger crowd.

"Under the guidelines used for this room today, we can have 690 and be just as safe as we are here with six feet and all of the things we would want to do," said Powell, the church's community connections pastor.

The signs on the door at Cornerstone Church still say they're closed, but Pastor Jim Franklin is ready to open those doors and he asked county supervisors for help.

"Someone needs to let the governor know people are standing for the Constitution," said Frankin. "We're not going to let our churches be discriminated against. Someone's got to have that voice."
State health officials say they've traced two coronavirus outbreaks to unauthorized Mother's Day church services in Northern California.

But supervisor Steve Brandau agreed the governor's order is unconstitutional and tried to have the county create its own guidelines, resembling what they're allowing at other businesses.

His motion failed, but the rest of the board also disliked the governor's order, and even when the majority voted to accept its guidelines, approval came with a legal threat.

"I also would like to, in my motion, direct our county counsel to look into a federal lawsuit to protect our churches," said supervisor Nathan Magsig.

So for now, the governor's order is the law of the land in Fresno County, although it's a law nobody expects to see enforced.

Supervisor Buddy Mendes compared the order to a Jedi mind trick where the governor is trying to convince everyone he's still in control.
"In reality, we're better off not saying anything because he's lost control and sticking it in his face that 'Hey, you've lost control. We're going to do what we want to do,'" Mendes said. "We're going to do what we want to do anyway."

The governor says the current limits on church services will stay in place for three weeks before he considers allowing bigger congregations.

Several churches are ready and willing to open this Sunday.

Powell says it's not worth it for People's Church to reopen for such small groups. He tells Action News they've had an increase in attendance going online and they'll wait for the governor to change his mind or wait out the three weeks.

Franklin says he'll announce his intentions Wednesday, but promised he'll go against the guidelines he calls discriminatory.
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