I’m in the bushes outside your house, staring at you through your bathroom window. But if you tell people that I’m in the bushes outside your house, staring at you through your bathroom window, don’t use my name — just say “an individual” is in the bushes and staring at you. I mean, I have a right to privacy, don’t I? I need you to respect that.
David Zweig reported much of an important story on Sunday, detailing the way public health investigators in Santa Clara County targeted a San Jose church that worshipped in person — wItHOuT mAsKs!!!!!! — during the most severe moments of the lockdown madness. Digging through court records, Zweig finds that public health officers subjected Calvary Chapel to months of constant surveillance, starting from a neighboring property and then getting a court order allowing them regular access to the church campus to inspect services, classes, and social gatherings:
The cataloging of church members, their actions, and violations continues in the declarations ad infinitum. Women drinking coffee in a hallway. In the church cafe 11 young adults gathered, not wearing masks or distancing. Another youth gathering was noted for having chairs “arranged in a manner that did not allow for social distancing.” The officers observed baptisms, describing McClure touching the faces of baptismal candidates and pinching their noses as he submerged them in water (presumably this was marked down as a double violation of not masking and not distancing).
I am generally unacquainted with court declarations, and found much of the tone and content to be of such awkward literalness about such pedestrian circumstances, that it achieved a sort of high art of dry humor. And yet, these were often personal, intimate moments that were being monitored by force.
Here’s the link to that story again, and I encourage you to read the whole thing.
As Zweig notes, litigation is underway in state and federal courts over the way Santa Clara County public health officials surveilled and punished Calvary Chapel. After I read Zweig’s story, I logged into Pacer and started reading documents in the First Amendment lawsuit filed in federal court by the church (along with another church in the same county). Among many other things, the complaint filed by the plaintiffs lays out the harm caused by social isolation, and describes church as a healthy place where people can find comfort in the face of loneliness and despair. And it notes the apparently disparate treatment of secular and religious activities by public health officials, though the county contests the point:
Walmart yes, church no.
The county’s response to the federal lawsuit is remarkable for the way the application of legal standards can appear to be socially and politically obtuse. Santa Clara County public health orders allowed people to attend outdoor-only church services, but required that churches collect the names and contact information of every attendee so the government could seize the lists for contract tracing in the event of a positive test for The Dreaded Virus™.
Eyeroll, the county’s lawyers explained; collecting everyone’s names to give them to the government is, like, whatever:
When George Wallace was the governor of Alabama, the state subpoenaed the NAACP for their complete membership rolls and the names of everyone who attended NAACP meetings. See, handing over lists of names to the government is inherently meaningless — “no more unusual than a sign-in sheet.” It’s like going to a PTA meeting, and Peg passes around a clipboard. There is no reasonable expectation among people who leave their homes that they won’t end up on a list that ends up in government hands, and, like, BFD. I mean, name one example of a government ever using a list of names to do something bad.
Where this becomes truly funny, though, is in the choice Zweig made when he illustrated his story with excerpts of declarations filed in court. See if you can spot the irony before I say what it is:
The county enforcement officers who spent months sneaking around Calvary Chapel San Jose to record unmasked hugs and document non-distanced conversations between friends in the hallway: Their names are protected from disclosure.
We watched them through a chain link fence, said [name redacted].
I thought at first that Zweig must be posting court records as he found them, and that the county had redacted the names of public officials who conducted surveillance on church socials — which would have been a truly amazing irony, and one for the record books. But Santa Clara County court records are extremely easy to search for, and the names of government officials aren’t redacted in the documents filed by county lawyers:
So David Zweig chose to do these government officials the favor of protecting their privacy as public officers doing public duties, and then describing their performance of those duties in public records. They have no — zero — expectation of privacy in this context, and this is an odd choice.
Now: There’s so much more of this petty authoritarianism coming.
No, really: A new public health order issued on February 28 in San Francisco threatens to imprison health care and jail employees — an interesting conceptual linkage, there — who don’t wear masks at work. You can read that complete order here, or click on this PDF file:
Why does it matter if public health officials are named as they make these increasingly bizarre and pointless displays of arbitrary power? Among the many maybe-correct-on-the-law-but-insanely-politically-obtuse moments in Santa Clara County’s response to Calvary Chapel’s federal lawsuit is the moment when the county argues that there’s no good reason for the church to name the individual members of the Board of Supervisors as defendants:
And this is correct, but not in ways that the county’s lawyers meant. Santa Clara County’s public health orders didn’t come from officials who anyone in Santa Clara County ever voted for, and the people who issue public health orders aren’t even supervised by anyone we ever vote for. Unaccountable, insulated, with hilariously unchecked unilateral powers, public health officials shut down society without even a gesture at public deliberation or a vote by elected officials. All churches are hereby closed, says office you can’t vote against. (Sara Cody is Santa Clara County’s public health director, but she wasn’t hiding in the bushes taking notes on the congregants at a church.) Their power already lacks transparency and accountability — why make it worse?
There will never be any way to fight this kind of behavior without saying who’s doing it.
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A group in my state actually protested at the home of the ridiculous state public health bureaucrat who lorded over covid policies, including curfews and snitch lines and school closures, and she felt so VIOLATED that people would know where she lived and have the nerve to protest AT HER PRIVATE RESIDENCE. The woman who orchestrated the invasion of privacy of every single resident of this state was just appalled at being protested at home. She doesn’t report to the peasantry! (What was funny was that the group protesting said they would have gladly protested at a government building, but she hadn’t been into the actual office in months...)
My San Diego family had to have church outside for almost two full years. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how we all just folded to tyranny so fast.
This is one of the critical aspects of the COVID response that must be exposed, confronted,and corrected. The sudden exercise of all kinds of extralegal edicts and blatantly illegal suspensions of citizens’ Constitutional rights by unelected and elected officials was a stunning phenomenon. I think a lot of the efficacy of these mostly stupid, destructive, and inhumane activities was predicated on people simply being ignorant of the law compounded by fear. Fear of the virus, fear of the government, fear of the unknown. Fear is what allowed these power crazed halfwits to get away with this stuff, and the public correctly perceived the hostility, both latent and overt in the behavior of public officials. And as you point out, the nonsense continues in many areas of the country.