Coronavirus: California pastor continues to defy stay-at-home order by holding church services, citing First Amendment

LODI, Calif. -- A pastor in the Central California town of Lodi is facing backlash for continuing to hold services at his church near Stockton in violation of state and local bans put in place to control the spread of novel coronavirus, according to a new report.

In an interview with KTXL, Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center said he plans to remain defiant because gathering in person is essential to the Christian faith.

"The church, the assembly of God is the people of God gathering together," Duncan told KTXL."Regularly gathering together for the teaching of God's word, praying, worship, baptism, communion and fellowship."

As many as 30 people attended Sunday's service, according to Duncan.

The pastor says the church plans to stay open, despite already receiving a verbal warning from two Lodi police officers regarding Governor Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order.

Dean Broyles, the church's attorney, says he also sent the city of Lodi and the Lodi Police Department a cease and desist letter citing their religious freedom had been violated.

"The choice ultimately belongs to the church of when you can meet, not the state," Broyles said. "We simply believe that constitutional rights are not suspended by a virus."

The church is encouraging anyone who may be sick or at risk to stay home, it has also set up hand-washing stations and is spacing out seating, according to the pastor.

"We are not a church that takes the virus lightly nor do we have in our minds to act reckless," Duncan said. "We are going to meet as often as we can meet and we do believe that this right is protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential."

Churches around the U.S., including in Florida and Louisiana have continued to hold services in defiance of bans.

Vice President Mike Pence told ABC's "Nightline" co-anchor Byron Pitts on Wednesday that Americans should not attend church services of more than 10 people during the novel coronavirus outbreak.

"We really believe this is a time when people should avoid gatherings of more than 10 people," Pence said. "And, and so, we continue to urge churches around America to heed to that."
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