A California church’s landlord changed the locks to prevent its controversial pastor from defying a coronavirus shutdown, according to reports.
Pastor Jon Duncan had vowed to continue preaching at Cross Culture Christian Center in Lodi, telling Fox 40 the services were “protected by the First Amendment and should be considered essential.”
But he was met by several police officers when he arrived on Palm Sunday — and was unable to enter the completely shuttered church, the Los Angeles Times said.
The building’s owner, the nearby Bethel Open Bible Church, had “changed the locks on the doors in response” to his threats to defy coronavirus restrictions, Lodi Police Lt. Michael Manetti told the paper.
The officer said that during a “fairly cordial” discussion with the pastor they also turned away more than a dozen cars that tried to pull in for Sunday service on a day even Pope Francis livestreamed Mass behind closed doors.
“We understand people’s desire to practice their faith,” Manetti told the L.A. paper. “It’s for everyone’s welfare. We have to protect the public.”
Duncan had no idea that the locks had been changed when he arrived for mass, his attorney, Dean Broyles, told the L.A. Times.
“The landlord did not inform my client that they were going to lock them out of the premises,” Broyles said.
A notice of public nuisance from the City of Lodi is shown on the door of Bethel Open Bible Church.
Pastor Jon Duncan of Cross Culture Christian Center kneels while giving a prayer to a congregant member parked outside of Bethel Open Bible Church.
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He said he is also planning a federal civil rights lawsuit. “The right to peaceably assemble, the free exercise of religion and freedom of speech are unalienable rights found in the First Amendment,” he said. “Constitutional rights are not suspended by a virus.”
Pastor Michael Allison of Bethel Open Bible Church said they “don’t anticipate [Cross Culture Christian Center] re-entering our building.”
“When the Public Health Officer issued an ‘Order Prohibiting Public Assembly’ we immediately took action to lock the building so that it would not be available for any public assembly,” Allison told the paper.