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Churches: Defiance Results in COVID-19 ‘Clusters’

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has created fear, stress and panic throughout the global community. During these times of economic, physical and emotional hardship, believers tend to lean on their faith and turn to their church community for solace and support. Ordinarily, gathering with one’s faith community would be a recommended source of comfort. However, during the coronavirus pandemic the faithful must practice their religion at a distance in order to avoid contributing to the spread of COVID-19. Many faith communities dutifully abide by public health orders—while their church doors are closed and group gatherings stopped, they have implemented video-conferenced church services, virtual bible studies, and email prayer chains. Unfortunately, not all religious communities and churches have met the current moment in this way. Read on to learn more about how ignoring the coronavirus can put others at risk, from the coronavirus lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys.

Religious Concerns with Coronavirus

Churches Have a Responsibility to Take Preventative Measures against COVID-19

Some churches and religious organizations are running afoul of public health shelter-in-place orders and prohibitions on communal gatherings. In several cases, this defiance has resulted in troubling outbreak “clusters” of the coronavirus COVID-19. Any church or religious organization that interacts with groups of people has a responsibility to make sure that their members and staff are not at risk for spreading disease or viruses. In the time of coronavirus, this means obeying public health orders and following recommendations of health authorities. When churches and religious institutions put their members and the public at risk by failing to heed these important public health warnings and orders—continuing to gather, to hug, shake hands, or pass a common communal cup or donation basket—these actions may constitute negligence or gross negligence. If you or a loved one tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of an organization’s failure to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus, contact the coronavirus lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys today to schedule a free initial consultation.

Coronavirus Clusters Linked to Churches Violating Public Health Orders

Clusters of persons infected with COVID-19 have been identified throughout the United States and the world. Three church-related clusters have been identified in the state of Kansas. A cluster of three-dozen coronavirus cases have been traced back to a church event in Arkansas. A funeral in a Georgia community resulted in at least two dozen positive cases of COVID-19. In South Korea, at least 22 COVID-19 cases have been traced back to a church in Seoul. An alarming cluster of nearly 2,500 coronavirus cases has been linked to a five-day church celebration in France. These are just a sampling of the multitude of troubling church clusters plaguing the U.S. and other countries.

71 COVID-19 Cases Linked to Sacramento Megachurch:

Bethany Slavic Missionary Church—Sacramento, CA*

The communal gatherings among the parishioners of one Sacramento Pentecostal church have resulted in one of the largest clusters in California. 71 members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Sacramento County Department of Health. The Sacramento Bee reports that one church member has died as a result of the virus, though that report is contested by church leaders. Cases linked to the church account for nearly one-fifth of all of the confirmed novel coronaviruses cases in Sacramento County as of April 3, 2020. While the 3,500 member church closed its doors and stopped holding services on March 18, 2020, a statement released by the county health department indicates that Bethany Slavic parishioners continued to hold bible studies and fellowship meetings in congregants’ homes—thereby violating stay-at-home and physical distancing orders. “These gatherings have been directly linked to the cluster of cases in the community,” the statement read. A statement released by the church refuted most of the health department’s allegations, but did confirm that two prominent members of the church tested positive for COVID-19.

* Gomez Trial Attorneys does not condone or endorse ridicule, hatred, or violence toward this church, any church, or any member of society.

Cross Culture Christian Center—Lodi, CA*

Bethany Slavic is just one of numerous places of worship that has allegedly resisted social and physical distancing norms and county health mandates to shelter-in-place. Less than 40 miles south of Bethany Slavic in Sacramento, is Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, California. Lead Pastor Jon Duncan has found his church in the spotlight after continuing to hold church services as late as March 25, 2020—several days after the issuance of public health stay-at-home orders. In early April, Duncan expressed his intention to keep the church open, and that doing so is a First Amendment right. On Sunday, April 5, Duncan was greeted by several police officers in the parking lot of the meeting space for his congregation. Bethel Open Bible Church, which leases space to Duncan’s Cross Culture Christian Center, had changed the locks on the building to prevent Cross Culture congregants from entering and gathering for worship. Police responded to the Church’s location in order to ensure that the church did not hold service. Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told the Los Angeles Times, “We understand people’s desire to practice their faith,” but “we have to protect the public.”

* Gomez Trial Attorneys does not condone or endorse ridicule, hatred, or violence toward this church, any church, or any member of society.

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Mass Church Gatherings are Outbreak Clusters Waiting to Happen

Attorney John Gomez

John Gomez, Coronavirus Attorney

In Central, Louisiana, Pastor Tony Spell faces misdemeanor charges for holding services at the Life Tabernacle Church,* despite a ban on gatherings due to coronavirus concerns. Nonetheless, congregants continue to attend services at the church, and on March 31, 2020 were observed violating social distancing recommendations by hugging and shaking hands.

In Florida, the Pastor of The River at Tampa Bay Church,* Dr. Rodney Howard-Browne, was arrested on March 30, 2020 for violating a local “safer-at-home” order. The order, designed to curtail the spread of COVID-19, was effected on March 27, 2020 and mandated that businesses and organizations considered essential abide by social distancing guidelines and keep people 6 feet away from each other or shut down. Livestream videos of the church’s service held on March 29, 2020, depict parishioners sitting shoulder to shoulder, despite the public health order.

* Gomez Trial Attorneys does not condone or endorse ridicule, hatred, or violence toward this church, any church, or any member of society.

Gomez Trial Attorneys: Committed to Our Clients and the Community

As has been seen with multitudes of coronavirus clusters, people in close physical contact risk unwittingly spreading COVID-19 and increasing the virus’s trajectory in communities. Gathering for worship does not immunize churchgoers from being carriers of this novel coronavirus. Technological resources available to church leaders enable them to livestream church services and hold virtual bible studies and prayer groups, preserving a sense of connected community and ability to communicate with congregants.

Gomez Trial Attorneys values and respects the need for people to feel connected to their faith in the midst of a crisis. However, ignoring public health orders only furthers and worsens the coronavirus crisis. Gomez Trial Attorneys will hold accountable any church or religious organization whose failure to protect its members and the public results in an outbreak of positive coronavirus cases. If you or a loved one tested positive for COVID-19 as a result of an organization’s failure to minimize the risk of spreading coronavirus, contact the coronavirus lawyers at Gomez Trial Attorneys today to schedule a free initial consultation.


Gomez Trial Attorneys
655 West Broadway, Suite 1700
San Diego, CA 92101
Phone: (619)-237-3490
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