“Many people of faith feel like the government has been overreaching and interfering with really the first freedom of our country, which is the right to gather and to worship and to practice your faith without any interference of any bureaucrat or any political authority,” said Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, a Republican recall candidate from Rocklin. “I think that’s similar in some sense to how people have felt when it comes to the role of government in a lot of other ways.”
In February, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that California could not ban indoor services during the pandemic. At Destiny, which held in-person services last year in defiance of the governor’s orders, Fairrington asked if Elder would ever use executive power to limit freedom of religion.
“Of course not,” Elder said to applause.
He trumpeted other issues important to the conservative crowd, saying that he would never condemn people for “standing up for their own religious values” when refusing business to members of the LGBTQ community, that he doesn’t think sex education should be taught in schools and that he believes Roe vs. Wade should be overturned, returning governing of abortion to states. The audience at each service cheered.
“I think the whole congregation was like ecstatic to receive somebody in that’s such an opposition of what we have had these last four, eight, 10 years. It’s incredible,” said Monica D’Angelo, 62, a newcomer to the church who attended the 8 a.m. service. “We need to have a fresh start in this country and in this state especially.”
While Elder and Newsom were addressing congregations on Sunday, Kiley made his own appeal to church audiences in a string of campaign appearances at Godspeak Calvary Chapel Thousand Oaks, where Elder and Republican recall candidate Anthony Trimino previously campaigned. The church has a history of welcoming candidates to speak to parishioners, said pastor and former Thousand Oaks councilman Rob McCoy.
Kiley said campaigning in faith communities is a natural continuum of meeting with mosque, synagogue and church members in his district throughout his five-year tenure in the Assembly.
“Faith is something that is so fundamental to the lives of millions and millions of people in California. Churches are institutions that bring people together and also engage in service to the community,” Kiley said. “So if you’re going to run for office and say, ‘I’m not going to interact with the faith community,’ that’s worth writing a story about, if someone said that.”
Among the other leading candidates running in the recall election, Republican businessman John Cox has campaigned in various faith settings, his campaign manager Bryan Reed said. A representative for Kevin Paffrath said the Democratic candidate had not visited or planned to campaign with any religious groups, though he is willing and “supportive of all individual communities.” And in a campaign ad posted to her Twitter account in June, Republican recall candidate Caitlyn Jenner emphasized that, if she’s elected, “Together we’ll send a message to Sacramento that the power belongs to the people and we only worship God.”
But not all places of worship are eager to jump into the political arena.