Sheriff Claims Pastor Hid Congregants From Him on Easter, Fines Him $1,000 With a Threat of Jail Time

We’ve devolved into religious leaders being forced to hide worshipers from authorities.

According to KTVU-TV, Merced Country Sheriff Vernon H. Warnke and his deputies received a tip that Iglesia De Jesus Cristo Palabra Miel on Weaver Avenue had dozens of people inside the church with the doors locked and cars parked out of view of the street.


Deputies showed up in tactical gear at the church and began searching for congregants who, as it turns out, weren’t hiding at all, as Pastor Fernando Aguas told KTVU:

“It wasn’t fair what he did,” Aguas said of the sheriff. “When he quoted the Constitution, he was wrong. We have the right to assemble.”

He said he thought the rules were only a recommendation. And churches should be exempt anyway, he argued, because he and other religious leaders answer to a higher power.

Aguas also quibbled with the word “hiding.”

“We weren’t hiding,” he said. “There were kids running around everywhere. We just had people park in back because we didn’t want problems.”

He said there were about 40 people in the church at the time, about six deputies in full tactical gear showed up. He described the deputies as very “aggressive.”

When asked what the conditions were inside the church, Aguas said there was plenty of room in the church, and so there was ample spacing between those who were praying.

Aguas said he was handed a $1,000 citation that could include six months in jail. His court date is set for August.

Warnke told KFSN that Aguas put his “entire congregation in jeopardy.”


“By putting them in jeopardy, one person could have showed up, not known they’re infected and infected the entire congregation. This congregation now goes out and gets with their family because they think they’re okay, and then it continues to go,” said Warnke.

Warnke continued by saying that no one is violating their freedom of speech or religion, but that it has to be done a different way, adding “I’m just telling you where you can’t go to do it, and that’s based upon this health directive.”

Lawsuits from three Southern California churches against California Gov. Gavin Newsom and other California officials arose on Monday for this very reason. It’s unclear how the officials will win the case given that the very first Amendment in the Bill of Rights includes an American citizen’s freedom of assembly.


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