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.
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.
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.
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.”
Occasion: Proper 18 Sunday, September 06, 2020 Year (cycle): A
The Collect: Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Old Testament: Exodus 12:1-14 [Alternate: Ezekiel 33:7-11] 1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: 2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household. 4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight. 7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs. 10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the Lord. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgements: I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
Jenna Ellis: ‘This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable.’
In the fight between Los Angeles County and Pastor John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church over religious liberty, the county went petty. Los Angeles County notified Grace Community Church via letter that on October 1 it is being evicted from a parcel of land it uses as a parking lot. The church has held a lease on this land for 45 years.
Is this retaliation for fighting Los Angeles County’s ban on indoor church worship services? Lawyers for John MacArthur and Grace Community Church think so.
“Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order,” said Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel to Thomas More Society: “In America, we have a judicial system to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power, and Grace Community Church has every right to be heard without fear of reprisal. The Democrats’ message to Americans is clear–if you don’t bow to every whim of tyranny, the government will come after you. The Church has peacefully held this lease for 45 years and the only reason the County is attempting eviction is because John MacArthur stood up to their unconstitutional power grab. This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable.“
This eviction is for a large area of the parking lot utilized by the church—and has been leased since 1975. The land is in the flood control area and unsuitable for most uses.
The dispute between MacArthur, Grace Community Church and Los Angeles County began when the church decided it would hold indoor worship services despite the county and California bans on indoor church services. The county has taken MacArthur and the church into court at least four times in the last several weeks seeking judgment against the church.
Occasion: Proper 17 Sunday, August 30, 2020 Year (cycle): A
Old Testament: Exodus 3:1-15 [Alternate: Jeremiah 15:15-21] 1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5 Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6 He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The battle between Los Angeles County officials and California megachurch Pastor John MacArthur is continuing.
According to a press release obtained by Faithwire, county officials are attempting — for the fourth time — to get a court order to shutter MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, which has been holding in-person worship services since last month, a violation of orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), who has mandated churches keep their doors closed amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
MacArthur, in his declaration released Monday, argued the county is attempting to impede on his and his congregation’s “free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith.”
“As a church,” he wrote, “we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord.”
He continued, in part:
This church is the core of life for thousands from nursery to seniors. Our church is not an event center. It is a family of lives who love and care for each other in very intensely personal ways. So essential to personal well-being that people rushed back as soon as they could. The utter unnecessary deprivation of all our people by completely shutting down the mutual love and care that sustains our people in all the exigencies, pressures, and challenges of life, was cruel. And after 63 years of sacrificial, kindness to our city, to be repeatedly threatened with court-ordered efforts to shut Grace Community Church down when no one is sick, reveals an inexplicable preference for a mostly harmless virus over the life-enriching and necessary fellowship of the church. Our leaders and congregation see no real health threat to warrant such restraint. We see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power.
Los Angeles County told Court would not find John MacArthur in contempt of court because no court order was in place to prevent indoor worship services at Grace Community Church.
The County of Los Angeles asked a Los Angeles Superior Court to find Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church in contempt of court for holding indoor worship services. There was only one problem: there was no court order against indoor services. So, the court rejected this attack on Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s religious liberty.
This is the third time Los Angeles County has hauled John MacArthur and Grace Community Church into court, according to Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, who are representing the church.
Officials with Los Angeles County wanted MacArthur and the leadership of the Grace Community Church held in contempt of court after holding a regular church service at their Sun Valley, California campus last Sunday. Ellis accused Los Angeles County of continuing a policy of harassment against Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church.
Ellis responded to the judicial finding in a statement: “We are pleased with the outcome today. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff correctly found there is no court order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. LA County continues to harass and target Pastor MacArthur. Having failed to get a court order to shut down the church they have sought three times, they’re going to try again by hauling us back into court. Ironically, LA County said in its application for contempt that, ‘Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions don’t go its way,’ yet that’s precisely what LA County is now doing themselves. We will simply continue to defend our client’s constitutionally protected rights because church is essential.”