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CA Pastor cited for secret Easter gathering

MERCED, California — The pastor of Iglesia De Cristo in Merced County California has been cited after 50-60 people were found inside a locked sanctuary on Easter Sunday.

Action News reports that deputies were first called to the small church where they found the 50-60 people of all ages gathered inside. Investigators say that the pastor Fernando Aguas tried to hide the parishioners by having them park in the overflow lot behind the church.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke told Action News, “He put his entire congregation in jeopardy. One person could have showed up not knowing they’re infected and infected the entire congregation. They get with their family because they think they’re okay, and it continues to go.”

Aguas was not at the church on Monday when Deputies arrived to cite him. Though he did later meet with authorities at the Sheriff’s Office.

Later Aguas told Action News that he thought the gathering rules in place in California were only a recommendation and that churches should be exempt because they answer to a higher power.

“The Bible does say that we should not stop gathering,” Aguas told the news station.

The Sheriff says he has received a number of phone calls from people that believe closing churches violates the constitution.

“You still have freedom of speech and freedom of religion,” Warnke says.

“You’re just gonna have to do it a different way. I’m not telling you you can’t worship, I’m just telling you where you can’t go to do it, and that’s based on this health directive.”

Agunas says that he has agreed not to open his church until California’s “stay at home” orders are lifted.

He will also appear in court where a judge will decide if he will face any penalties.