California church buckles under repeated fines and shuts down indoor services

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Spring Hills Church in Fulton on Friday, January 29, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Freedom of religion took another hit over the weekend as a church in north Santa Rosa, in California’s Sonoma County, agreed to stop holding large, indoor services after it was fined twice.

Spring Hills Church had been convening in defiance of Sonoma County health orders and state guidelines before agreeing to yield under the financial punishment, according to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Pastor Bret Avlakeotes said the church would bow to the county’s orders to move services outdoors while holding out hope — and leading his congregation to pray for — for a U.S. Supreme Court intervention.

“We’re not looking to prove anything, and we’re not looking for a fight, alright?” Avlakeotes told his flock Sunday. “If the county’s going to come in and is going to fight us all the way, then we’ll probably let them win this one. We’ll go outside.”

Avlakeotes made the announcement on Jan. 31 during three indoor services at the Fulton Road church, and he did not answer requests for comment.

Spring Hills is the first religious entity in the county to be fined for defying health orders that prohibit indoor worship services, intended to hamper the spread of COVID-19. The church was fined $100 last week following months of warnings from the county, which has been communicating with church leaders since September. After Avlakeotes made a public promise to continue indoor services, county enforcement staff slapped the church with a second $100 fine on Jan. 30, issuing a third $100 fine the following day.

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