Judge refuses to hold John MacArthur, Grace Community Church in contempt without trial

A California judge has sided with California Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in yet another hearing over the church’s decision to hold indoor public worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastor John MacArthur

On Thursday, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that MacArthur and his Sun Valley-based church are entitled to a full trial on the merits of their challenge against state and local orders prohibiting indoor church gatherings before they can be held in contempt for violating the orders.

For nearly three months, the county has sought to shut down the church and hold MacArthur in contempt for repeatedly violating the order. However, attorneys at the Thomas More Society have argued that the governor’s orders violate several provisions of the state constitution.

This week, Beckloff ruled that the courts must first decide on the constitutionality of the shutdown orders before the county can pursue contempt charges.

Due to the state’s shut-down orders, the contempt trial is not expected to take place until early 2021.

The court scheduled a hearing to be held on Nov. 13 regarding the scope of the church’s challenge. A preliminary injunction was issued earlier this month by Beckloff prohibiting the church from conducting, participating in or attending any indoor worship services until the case is resolved.

Lawyers for MacArthur and Grace Community applauded the judge’s decision Thursday.

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Florida reopens: DeSantis lifts remaining coronavirus restrictions

Bars and restaurants are no longer required to operate at less than full capacity, as Gov. Ron DeSantis issued an executive order Friday removing all remaining restrictions on businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic.

But the executive order, which takes effect immediately, also prohibits local governments from closing businesses or collecting fines related to pandemic-related mandates, such as mask requirements.

“We are today moving into what we initially called phase 3,” DeSantis said during a press conference in St. Petersburg. “And what that’ll mean for the restaurants is there will not be limitations from the state of Florida.”

“We’re also saying in the state of Florida everybody has a right to work,” he added. “(Local governments) can do reasonable regulations but they can’t just say no.”

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Darden Restaurants reduces corporate staff as sales remain down during pandemic

Darden Restaurants revealed Thursday it has cut 11% of its corporate workforce at its Orlando headquarters and in other leadership positions as the owner of Olive Garden continues to endure slower sales during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Olive Garden on North Orlando Avenue in Winter Park, photographed Thursday March 19, 2020. Darden Restaurants, which owns Olive Garden and other restaurant chains, reported quarterly earnings Thursday morning.

The company, which also owns LongHorn Steakhouse and other chains, said Thursday that same-restaurant sales were down 29% for the quarter ending Aug. 30 compared with the same quarter last year, but reported net earnings of $37 million from continuing operations.

At the same time, Darden has brought back thousands of its furloughed hourly employees in the past few months.

Darden shared details on the early retirement incentive program and corporate restructuring that led to the smaller corporate workforce on an earnings call.

“This restructuring resulted in a net 11% reduction in our workforce in the restaurant support center and field operations leadership positions,” CFO Rick Cardenas said, adding the move is expected to save the company between $25 million and $30 million annually.

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Puerto Rican population in metro Orlando dips back to pre-Hurricane Maria levels

The Puerto Rican population in Central Florida returned to pre-Hurricane Maria levels, according to the latest American Community Survey, conducted yearly by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The newest estimate of Puerto Ricans is roughly 385,000 in Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake counties, which is similar to before the Category 5 storm ravaged the island in mid-September 2017, driving many Puerto Ricans to Central Florida.

UCF sociologist Fernando I. Rivera, founder of the Puerto Rico Research Hub, explained that Puerto Rico’s migration “is circular.”

“Basically, the economic conditions are what really determine the population movement,” he said. “If you are going to suffer economically here, you would prefer to go back to Puerto Rico and at least be with family.”

The decline is an unusual twist for one of the U.S. mainland’s largest concentration of Puerto Ricans — only second to the New York metro area. In the city of Kissimmee, where Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden made a campaign stop last week to announce an economic recovery plan for the island, 1 in every 2.5 residents is of Puerto Rican origin. They represent a large block of voters to be wooed in Florida, with Central Florida positioned as the highly-sought swing region in a state viewed as one of the most coveted prizes in the upcoming presidential election.

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Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dead at 87

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the enigmatic, longtime Supreme Court justice who attained near cult-like status among progressive circles, died Friday at the age of 87 from complications surrounding metastatic pancreatic cancer.

The late Supreme Court justice, who spent more than two decades on the bench in the highest court of the land, is survived by her two children, Jane Carol and James Steven Ginsburg.

“Our Nation has lost a jurist of historic stature,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. said in a Friday evening statement. “We at the Supreme Court have lost a cherished colleague. Today we mourn, but with confidence that future generations will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg as we knew her — a tireless and resolute champion of justice.”

President Bill Clinton names Judge Ruth Bader Ginsburg, of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in the Rose Garden of the White House, Washington DC, June 14, 1993.

Ginsburg, who was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, was known for her soft-spoken demeanor that masked an analytical mind, a deep concern for the rights of every American and a commitment to upholding the Constitution.

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is laying off 1,100 employees

With the professional athletes gone, Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort is laying off about 1,100 employees because of low occupancy and canceled events in another hit to the tourism industry because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The layoffs are coming after Major League players stayed there this summer.

The Marriott hotel between Epcot and Hollywood Studios called the economic impact “historic, swift and devastating” as it alerted the state as a requirement under federal law for mass layoffs.

The entire Swan portion of the hotel had been home to MLS teams who were staying there in the “bubble” in July and August as they played in a tournament at ESPN Wide World of Sports.

NBA players also became guests at other Disney hotels when the league restarted play in Orlando amid the pandemic.

Even though all Orlando’s theme parks are open, September has been a brutal time for the industry as thousands of employees have recently been let go or placed on indefinite furloughs.

New notices filed this week showed 5,400 Universal employees are furloughed and 1,900 employees at SeaWorld’s Orlando properties are now permanently laid off after being furloughed since March.

The Swan and Dolphin warned the economic impact will carry over into 2021.

The 1,136 positions are in multiple departments of the hotel, including 256 banquet servers, 41 cooks, 67 housekeepers and 88 loss prevention officers. The notice said the layoffs are permanent and effective Nov. 13.

Included are about 135 union employees represented by Teamsters Local 385 who work primarily as servers, housekeepers and laundry attendants. Those employees may be among the first to return if the hotel reverses course and brings back jobs.

At 11%, metro Orlando had the highest regional unemployment rate in the state in August, according to a report released Friday.

Coach Prime Time? Deion Sanders reportedly set to take over college football program

Deion Sanders is reportedly getting into the coaching game.

The NFL Hall of Famer has experience coaching in the Under Armour All-American Game and was reportedly a candidate for the open head coaching positions at Arkansas and Florida State this offseason but now it appears the former college and NFL superstar is set to take over his first college football program.

According to Kenn Rashad of HBCU Sports, Sanders will be named the new head coach HBCU program, Jackson State.

You may recall, during an appearance on “The Dan Patrick Show” during Super Bowl week, Sanders expressed his desire to become a head coach.

“I’m going to be a head coach in college football next year,” Sanders said back in February. “I’m that definite. I’m that assured that I am. This is something that is my calling. I’m going to coach college football. Head coach, not coach. Head coach.”

It appears Sanders wasn’t bluffing.

Layoffs in Central Florida keep piling up

In the spring, as the new coronavirus began to spread throughout Central Florida, companies began shedding employees and Congress rushed in to provide some short-term relief.

Not knowing how severe the outbreak would become and how long its grip on the tourism-dependent region would last, executives hoped things would go back to normal soon.

But the layoffs haven’t stopped, and the calls to Congress for more help for the jobless and for the hotels, theme parks and other businesses that employed them have gone unanswered. It’s further evidence of the stark message Florida’s chief economist, Amy Baker, delivered to lawmakers Thursday that Florida tourism will take potentially three years to recover from this crisis.

In August alone, thousands more people were laid off or placed on furlough in Central Florida, mostly from hotels, according to a review of the state’s database.

The Hilton Orlando on Destination Parkway extended furloughs for 605 employees. The Orlando World Center Marriott laid off 601, saying it doesn’t expect occupancy to pick up until 2021. Eight Universal hotels, many of which have closed, furloughed or laid off 2,130 people.

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Judge bans indoor services at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church

A California court has issued a preliminary injunction against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, banning them from conducting, participating in or attending any indoor worship services until the case is resolved.

John MacArthur

In what lawyers for the Sun Valley-based megachurch described as a “setback,” a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge on Sept. 10 granted the county’s request for an injunction prohibiting Grace Community from holding indoor services in violation of county health orders.

Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled that the church must not conduct any outdoor worship services unless it fully complies with the county’s mandates relating to physical distancing and face coverings, according to the nonprofit law firm Thomas More Society.

In an 18-page ruling, Beckloff wrote that the county demonstrated “a likelihood of success on the merits of its claims” and found that the “balance of harms tips in its favor.”

“[T]he Court finds the balance of harms tips in favor of the County,” the judge contends. “The potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant risk of death to members of the community — associated and unassociated with the Church — outweighs the harm that flows from the restriction on indoor worship caused by the County Health Order.”

MacArthur called the ruling “inexplicable.”

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