News

Santa Clara County supports court ruling on the county's indoor gathering ban

University AME Zion Church Pastor Kaloma Smith's Easter sermon is livestreamed out of the church's nearly-empty sanctuary in Palo Alto on April 12, 2020. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

Santa Clara County officials are applauding a federal court's ruling that affirmed the county's ban on indoor gatherings.

The ruling reversed the court's earlier decision to provide an exception for churches to the county's prohibition of indoor gatherings of any kind, after determining that the ban does not single out churches or houses of worship.

Friday's temporary ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit extends the county's ban on indoor gatherings to include churches once again, which allows the ban to remain until the court makes a final decision.

County officials heralded the decision in a statement issued late Saturday.

"The Ninth Circuit's decision affirms that the County's health orders are neutral, across-the-board rules focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19," said James R. Williams, County Counsel. "Many in our community are eager to gather indoors together, including for indoor worship, but it is vitally important that we continue to keep our community safe and do everything we can bring the pandemic under control."

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

Williams noted the efforts of the local faith community in the county's official statement.

"We are grateful for the continued leadership of our faith community in the COVID-19 response," Williams said. "The vast majority of our faith community have been gathering outdoors or online so that they can worship safely and protect the broader community from serious illness and death. And our faith community continues to partner with the County to support vaccination, testing, and other critical efforts to get all of us through to the other side of this pandemic."

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Santa Clara County supports court ruling on the county's indoor gathering ban

by /

Uploaded: Mon, Feb 15, 2021, 9:12 am

Santa Clara County officials are applauding a federal court's ruling that affirmed the county's ban on indoor gatherings.

The ruling reversed the court's earlier decision to provide an exception for churches to the county's prohibition of indoor gatherings of any kind, after determining that the ban does not single out churches or houses of worship.

Friday's temporary ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit extends the county's ban on indoor gatherings to include churches once again, which allows the ban to remain until the court makes a final decision.

County officials heralded the decision in a statement issued late Saturday.

"The Ninth Circuit's decision affirms that the County's health orders are neutral, across-the-board rules focused on preventing the spread of COVID-19," said James R. Williams, County Counsel. "Many in our community are eager to gather indoors together, including for indoor worship, but it is vitally important that we continue to keep our community safe and do everything we can bring the pandemic under control."

Williams noted the efforts of the local faith community in the county's official statement.

"We are grateful for the continued leadership of our faith community in the COVID-19 response," Williams said. "The vast majority of our faith community have been gathering outdoors or online so that they can worship safely and protect the broader community from serious illness and death. And our faith community continues to partner with the County to support vaccination, testing, and other critical efforts to get all of us through to the other side of this pandemic."

Comments

21st Century Apostle
Registered user
another community
on Feb 15, 2021 at 10:56 am
21st Century Apostle, another community
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 10:56 am

This court decision was a step in the right direction as it strives to ensures further protection from potential Covid-19 infections emanating from mass gathdrings.

What I don't understand is the resistance from fundamental Christian groups who beg to differ, citing their 1st Amendments rights to public gatherings and religious freedom.

Do they not understand or recollect that Jesus himself never had an indoor church to accomodate his followers?

His sermons were held OUTDOORS in open meadows or by the beach.

This obstinancy to conduct unsafe indoor church services by various conservative Christian sects is quite baffling from the standpoint that many of them are apparently ignorant of how Jesus went about spreading his word.

He never had a fixed church building nor did he ever demand one.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2021 at 11:28 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 11:28 am

This shows the absolute stupidity of what is going on. It is safe to go to Costco, or Target, or any grocery store where the workers are there for presumably 8 hour shifts 5 days a week, socially distanced and masked, but it is not ok to wear a mask in a house of worship at 25% capacity where there is no singing and all the doors are left open, for 1 hour a week in Santa Clara County, but it is in other counties.

No wonder people are getting fed up with government intervention in their lives. The rules are making little or no sense.

I don't look on this as anything other than government overreach and nothing whatsoever to do with constitutional rights. If safety is really the concern then there would be more rules about how to keep the workers in stores safe and how to keep people who work in small offices safe. Governments have no idea that people are suffering from their anti-social mandates and they should be telling us how to interact safely rather than banning anything and everything. We are talking about a year of this and they appear to be doing absolutely nothing to suggest when life may become more sane and pleasant.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Feb 15, 2021 at 11:52 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 11:52 am

Christians want to worship indoors during the winter because it's too cold outside. This isn't breaking news. How is worshiping indoors any different than going to the store, post office or any other indoor gathering where you're wearing a mask and practicing social distancing? Our indoor church service was 35 minutes, and less time than some people spend at the store or mall. Churches sued and won.


Jetemy Pfister
Registered user
Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Feb 15, 2021 at 1:59 pm
Jetemy Pfister, Leland Manor/Garland Drive
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 1:59 pm

For some, shopping is a religion of sorts but this is besides the point.

As an earlier poster noted, the Savior did not require an indoor church (or with central air heating) for his followers to gather and worship.

This is California and winters (due to global warming) are somewhat milder than those of the past.

So wear a down vest or your Patagonia fleece outerware and consider worshipping outdoors practicing proper spacing. And do not drink from the same Communion cup.

Ask yourselves, would Jesus be making a federal case out of such trivial gathering concerns?

Jertemy Pfister > Jeremy Pfister
Theological Student


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Feb 15, 2021 at 3:02 pm
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 3:02 pm

It's not a "trivial gathering concern." Churches worship early in the morning and it's in the 40s at our worship time in the winter -- even in California. Forty something degrees is too cold to worship outside, especially for the elderly. It it was that big of a concern to be indoors, we'd close supermarkets and every other "indoor" gathering where employees are gathering for 8 hours or more. We can get groceries delivered and stores don't HAVE to be open for the public to come inside either. But they should be, and they are.

Also -- not all churches have lawn, etc. for outdoor worship. Siting in your car and piping in through speakers in a parking lot is for drive-in movies, not church.


Lucinda MacLesh
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 15, 2021 at 3:53 pm
Lucinda MacLesh, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 3:53 pm

I'm not buying into the outdoor weather constraints either. The current winter temperatures at this time of the year in Galilee (where Jesus preached) is roughly 53 degrees F with evening temps in the high 40s.

Jesus and his followers did not wear Patagonia fleece outerwear or down vests, just cotton robes.

People are getting too soft these days.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 15, 2021 at 4:26 pm
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 15, 2021 at 4:26 pm

As I said above, this is more to do with control of the population rather than protection.

I think this is a good example of government attempting to control who can do what. We have churches that followed all the rules back in October for the few couple of weeks before they were shut down. How many people caught Covid from those few weeks of meeting indoors, with doors open, socially sitting apart, no singing, wearing masks, etc.? How many cases in Santa Clara County were due to those safe, by reservation only, temps taken, etc. of people attending a short indoor service? I would imagine that for those who chose to attend a safe indoor service they felt safer than shopping inside any of the large open stores, or even working in any of those large stores.

Government interference in our lives is taking control of who can meet, where, and why. Dentists and doctors are able to do routine health for eyes and teeth, haircuts and nails are allowed to be done, all with safe controls and there is no evidence that Covid is being passed through these events. But for some reason, sitting in a large auditorium at 25% capacity socially distanced, while masked, is more dangerous? It sounds very much like government control to me.


Marianne Parker
Registered user
Stanford
on Feb 16, 2021 at 7:23 am
Marianne Parker, Stanford
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 7:23 am

Practicing one's faith in earnest does not require a church gathering or even a church.

It is an individual journey that can be pursued by oneself.

If unsafe church gatherings are the only means of expressing one's spiritual beliefs, then those beliefs easily fall into question.

No one needs a church or a congregation to take things to a higher level.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2021 at 9:11 am
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 9:11 am

@Mariane and others.

Of course you are right. Christianity (and probably other religions) does not insist on corporate worship in a purpose designed building. Of course it is helpful and useful to those whose homes are too small for large gatherings of like minded people to have fellowship together.

What seems to be forgotten is that a church is more than just a group of people singing and praying together and then listening to a sermon. A church is a body of people and yes can meet over zoom in their own homes and never seeing another living person while they do so. But for many, their church family is their family, it is the group of people they enjoy spending time with, they worship together yes, but they also cry together, support each other, celebrate together, and feel at home together. In the same way large extended families want to be together, church families want to at least spend some time together. Even if masked and waving across a socially distanced aisle, it is a time of being together that makes the difference, not the fact that God is any closer to them in the church building than in their own homes.

It is true that those who live alone are socially isolated from people and it is causing many problems. Those who live alone, can get depressed, turn to alcohol, drugs or food, and feel as if life is no longer worth living. If they can, if they choose, spend at least one short time each week, with other human beings who they recognize as friends and "family", it just might make life bearable for another week of this isolation and loneliness.

If all those who say Churches are dangerous places, then they are obviously completely unfamiliar with the support and encouragement that a true church family can bring. They are probably also strong willed and part of a great household where loneliness and isolation are not even imagined.

Many people are suffering in very real ways. A little sympathy and compassion will help.


Jennifer
Registered user
another community
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:09 am
Jennifer, another community
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:09 am

Indoor church gathering ISN'T unsafe. The county we live in is now allowing indoor church gatherings. We had them earlier during covid (25% capacity, masked, social distancing, etc.) and not one person has gotten covid. If you feel "indoor gatherings" are unsafe, you better stay out of the grocery stores.

Eating doesn't require going to the grocery store. You can grow your own food, order online, get take out, etc.

Churches should be open for indoor services -- period.


Antwone Davis
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:23 am
Antwone Davis, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:23 am

I carry my Bible and read it on my own.

Others can do the same with their religious texts.

When the coronavirus is over, we call all return to our conventional places of worship if so desired.

Until then, there is no need to create potential Covid-19 super-spreaders in the name of one's God.

Seriously. It's time for some COMMON SENSE in the matter.


Jeff Brown
Registered user
another community
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:38 am
Jeff Brown, another community
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 10:38 am

Prayer ensures one's personal relationship with god.

Going to church is more of a social endeavor.


Alistair Kearns
Registered user
Stanford
on Feb 16, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Alistair Kearns, Stanford
Registered user
on Feb 16, 2021 at 1:10 pm

Religion only serves to provide pre-scientic explanations of the unknown via blind faith. It's primary purpose is to control society, and spread spiritual relief through various dogmas.

One does not need to attend church to do that. Just a closed mind.


Tareeq Washington
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2021 at 6:13 am
Tareeq Washington, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 17, 2021 at 6:13 am

I used to believe in the power of prayer.

Last year I prayed for three things...

That the coronavirus would subside but we experienced even more death and tragedy.

That as a nation we would make further strides toward racial equality and then the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor incidents occured.

Lastly, with 2020 being an election year that we would emerge with a healing effort and consciousness to amend for the past four years of divisiveness and then the January 6th Capitol riots took place.

I imagine that I was not the only one who prayed for these things both privately and in church and still they went unanswered as a whole.

Mankind was foresaken by whoever we we were praying to and I am now a 100% disbeliever in any form of organized religion so there is no need for me to attend any church gatherings.

A belief in science rather than faith is a stronger choice for me as miracles do not occur without a scientific explanation.


J. Cooper
Registered user
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 17, 2021 at 2:36 pm
J. Cooper, Old Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 17, 2021 at 2:36 pm

Some people attend church not so much for spiritual guidance but for the social gathering afterwards as it provides an opportunity to chat and mingle.

The social aspects are kind of insignificant as anyone can eat cookies and drink coffee in the privacy of their own home after reading a few scriptures on their own.

Opening churches while the coronavirus is still staking out it's victims is irresponsible and reckless as it creates a super-spreader effect regardless of 25' distancing and the wearing of face masks.

People touch doors, hymn books and pass the collection plate around. Even Communion poses problems of its own.

For Communion at home I just open a nice Merlot and have some Ritz crackers. It works for me and I am not potentially infecting anyone.

The Constitutional First Amendment was written at a time when there wasn't any pandemic and most intelligent people are already aware of that particular fact.


Ethel Willoughby
Registered user
another community
on Feb 20, 2021 at 11:18 am
Ethel Willoughby, another community
Registered user
on Feb 20, 2021 at 11:18 am

As Neil Gorsach, esteemed Associate Justice of the SCOTUS duly noted, "If Hollywood may host a studio audience or film a singing competition while not a single soul may enter California's churches, synagogues and mosques, something has seriously gone awry."

Only scientific-based heathens are promoting the partial closures of places of worship and true devotees of their chosen faiths have the constitutional right to do so.

Power in prayer and congregation are omnipotent in God's universe and we will not be deprived Covid or no Covid.

The 6-3 SCOTUS decision validates this perspective & thank goodness constitutional 'originalists' were chosen by former President Trump rather than by jurists who wish to rewrite the Constitution as a 'living and breathing' document. It is not.

Like the Bible, Torah & whatever doctrine the Muslims adhere to, these scriptures were not intended to be rewritten to accommodate the whims of mankind, especially liberal-minded non-believers of a FAR much higher spiritual realm.


Miriam LaTorre
Registered user
Palo Alto Hills
on Feb 20, 2021 at 11:39 am
Miriam LaTorre, Palo Alto Hills
Registered user
on Feb 20, 2021 at 11:39 am

Amen Sister Ethel.

We will continue to gather and worship in the house of our Lord regardless of the dire public health threats we are all facing.

And the last time I checked, our money says, "In God We Trust" and the Pledge of Allegiance states "One nation under God"... not Dr. Fauci, Dr. Sara Cody or Astra-Zeneca.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 21, 2021 at 12:08 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 21, 2021 at 12:08 pm

"In God We Trust" was added in the 1950s during the shameful McCarthy era, not by the founders.

Believe what you want but you have no right to endanger and infect the rest of us. Read up on the super-spreader events held by politicians, churches etc. that wanted to discredit Dr. Fauci and science. They also threatened his life and that of his family, the Michigan governor, etc,


Reverend Beecham
Registered user
Barron Park
on Feb 21, 2021 at 12:45 pm
Reverend Beecham, Barron Park
Registered user
on Feb 21, 2021 at 12:45 pm

It is my personal belief that all churches and temples should use apps such as ZOOM to conduct their worship services.

In-person worship gatherings are oftentimes highly overated for in many instances, the congregational hymnal singing can be quite poor and the sermons bordering on dull.

Besides, TV evangelicals have been broadcasting their sermons for decades with no complaints from their followers.

Church offerings can easily be mailed-in or forwarded via smartphone app.

During these times of pandemic endangerment, it is best to stay home and practice one's faith from a safe distance.


Philomena
Registered user
Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 21, 2021 at 1:06 pm
Philomena, Duveneck/St. Francis
Registered user
on Feb 21, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Some people feel closer to God when they are in an actual place of worship.

Attending church from home on the computer leaves something to be desired.

God is protecting those who worship in his house and devout believers in the kingdom of god are immune from the ravages of foreign borne viruses.

God is watching over his flock.


Frank DelPilar
Registered user
East Palo Alto
on Feb 23, 2021 at 8:03 am
Frank DelPilar, East Palo Alto
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 8:03 am

The decision to attend church in person or via ZOOM should be left up to the individual congregations with absolutely no intervention from any of the county agencies.

The agencies who close down churches are in violation of the First Amendment and fortunately we have a SCOTUS that acknowledges this unlawful intervention.

I do not attend church but others who wish to should be permitted to do so.

We didn't close churches in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was running rampant nor during the Bubonic Plague.

People have a right to place their faith in whatever medium they elect whether it be religion, science or voodoo.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2021 at 8:32 am
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 8:32 am

"We didn't close churches in the 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was running rampant"

That's because AIDS isn't transmitted by breathing on other people in close proximity. That's the point of all the restrictions and the reasons for wearing masks! That's why a Virginia politician has to sit in a Plexiglass box because she refuses to mask up and why there were so many super-spreader cases at unmasked Trump events.

500,000 Americans have died, millions have been infected. Since you feel the need to pray so strongly, pray for them and their families who've been struck down by ignorance and inaction.

Pray for our healthcare workers whose lives dealing are threatened daily.

Pray to learn to "love thy neighbor" and for some common sense!


Alvin Klepper
Registered user
another community
on Feb 23, 2021 at 9:09 am
Alvin Klepper, another community
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 9:09 am

Praying and/or getting vaccinated will not cure or eradicate the coronavirus.

It is a message from an omnipotent God and the virus will continue to mutate despite further laboratory experimentations and newer vaccines.

His son Jesus died for the sins of man but few individuals for over the past 2000 years have bothered to improve the world at large as most have been too greedy or self-serving.

As a result, many innocent people are dying from this dreadful disease and will continue to do so until we as humans look further inward and genuinely strive to become better neighbors towards our fellow man.


ALB
Registered user
College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2021 at 2:57 pm
ALB, College Terrace
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 2:57 pm

I believe that three priests have died at St. Peter & Paul Church on Washington Square of Covid-19. Many synagogues and churches have successfully streamed services across the country to protect their flocks. Why is it that some people do not understand that we are living through, should we be fortunate to come out ok, a plague. This is not like AIDs this pandemic is transmitted via respiration. Jesus was about suffering and so was his mother Miriam. So we need to think about others and not just some notion that one can only pray inside a building.


Tristan Thompson
Registered user
another community
on Feb 23, 2021 at 4:09 pm
Tristan Thompson, another community
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 4:09 pm

This is not like AIDs this pandemic is transmitted via respiration.

And via certain animal transmissions (i.e. bats).

The virus is mutating and out of control.

And chances are, many more will die so why not let the believers in Christ embrace their faith and gather in worship?

One could easily get hit by a bus or train so what's the difference?

Mortality is merely a part of human existence and nobody lives forever.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Feb 23, 2021 at 5:27 pm
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
on Feb 23, 2021 at 5:27 pm

"And chances are, many more will die so why not let the believers in Christ embrace their faith and gather in worship?"

That's just ducky so long as they don't go out around the rest of us and risk infecting us -- or pushing us in front of busses or trains.

Most of us are sensible enough to avoid getting hit by busses and/or trains by looking both ways before crossing just like we were taught as small children.

Sure, nobody lives forever but some of us would prefer to live our lives longer than you apparently care about.


Bystander
Registered user
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
16 hours ago
Bystander, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
Registered user
16 hours ago

It makes absolutely no sense that Menlo Park churches can have indoor services whereas Palo Alto churches cannot.

We are pawns.


Avery Sommerville
Registered user
Menlo Park
15 hours ago
Avery Sommerville, Menlo Park
Registered user
15 hours ago

"It makes absolutely no sense that Menlo Park churches can have indoor services whereas Palo Alto churches cannot."


Perhaps this is because San Mateo County and the City of Menlo Park respects and honors a person's right to worship in a congregational gathering of their choosing whereas Palo Alto does not.

Palo Alto is oftentimes too caught up in it's own delusional world of blind liberalism, political correctness and secular mindsets.


Online Name
Registered user
Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
15 hours ago
Online Name, Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
Registered user
15 hours ago

Perhaps it's because San Mateo County has consistently reported lower numbers than Santa Clara County because 1) its population is smaller and 2) there's less denial.

Here's today's case numbers for New Infections Deaths

San Mateo County 108 5
Santa Clara County 222 7

Total numbers for Infections Deaths

San Mateo County 38,417 502
Santa Clara County 100,278 1728


R. Cavendish
Registered user
another community
13 hours ago
R. Cavendish, another community
Registered user
13 hours ago

quote: "San Mateo County has consistently reported lower numbers than Santa Clara County because 1) its population is smaller and 2) there's less denial."

If the Covid-19 infection/death numbers are higher in certain parts of Santa Clara County (i.e. San Jose) should the entire county be subject to stricter public health protocols?

Why not simply impose restrictions on the cities and areas that are most afflicted?

While I do not attend church regularly (or feel any dire need to), devout residents in Palo Alto who do should be afforded the opportunity lest they turn to alternative outlets for both their spirituality and consumer shopping/dining needs.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

In order to encourage respectful and thoughtful discussion, commenting on stories is available to those who are registered users. If you are already a registered user and the commenting form is not below, you need to log in. If you are not registered, you can do so here.

Please make sure your comments are truthful, on-topic and do not disrespect another poster. Don't be snarky or belittling. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

See our announcement about requiring registration for commenting.