WATCH: California Pastor Facing Potential Jail Time for Holding Easter Service

KTVU reports Sheriff’s deputies in central California cited a pastor who they say was caught hiding dozens of worshippers in his church, violating social distancing rules, on Easter Sunday.

According to the Merced County Sheriff, a tip came in regarding what they saw happening at Iglesia De Jesus Cristo Palabra Miel on Weaver Avenue: Dozens of people were inside the church, with the doors locked, and their cars parked out of view.

Before Easter, Sheriff Vernon H. Warnke said in a Facebook message that he, too, as a Christian would love to attend church in real life on the holiest day of the year.

But he added that the people elected him to keep them safe and he warned that everyone must stay home.

Pastor Fernando Aguas spoke to KTVU on Tuesday morning by phone.

“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.

But he also acknowledged some parishioners were wearing masks and others weren’t.

Aguas said he was handed a citation that said he could face a fine of $1,000 and even go to jail for six months. His court date is scheduled for August.