Thousand Oaks Councilman Resigns Over Social Distancing Flap

A member of the Thousand Oaks City Council, who is also the pastor of a local church, has resigned over his decision to offer communion to parishioners on Palm Sunday.

Rob McCoy planned to livestream his Sunday church service at Godspeak Calvary Chapel, but said he would welcome people for communion from 1 to 3 p.m. The church vowed to follow other social distancing guidelines, erecting markers to promote a six-foot distance, discouraging sick or vulnerable people from attending, and urging churchgoers to wear face masks.

But the decision came as health officials warned of the worst days of the crisis to come. On Saturday, the White House’s Dr. Deborah Birx even warned against unnecessary trips to the pharmacy or grocery store.

McCoy, who is a Republican, remained defiant, underscoring the red-blue divide that has characterized much of this pandemic. In a video, he pointed to rules deeming cannabis dispensaries, liquor stores, and abortions as “essential” to demonstrate the unfairness.

“Truth of the matter is we have the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment declares that Congress shall make no law restricting or prohibiting the free exercise of religion,” he said.

A flurry of criticism arose, including from Thousand Oaks residents with immunocompromised children. McCoy refused to back down, but instead resigned from the City Council Saturday night.

“As an elected official I am in conflict and thus must tender my resignation from the council,” he wrote in a letter quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “I have no desire to put our community at risk and will not… However this is portrayed, please know I am obligated to do this.”

The communion service went forward as planned in violation of Ventura County’s stay-at-home orders. Police were present to ensure people kept a six-foot distance from each other.

“He recognizes the fact that he has a calling here that is in conflict with his duties as a city council member, so to his credit he resigned,” said Mayor Al Adam. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

McCoy is one of several pastors whose violation of social distancing rules has made national headlines. Police officers were called to a church in Lodi, California this Sunday after the pastor refused to cancel services. The church’s landlord ended up locking them out of the building and the services had to be canceled.