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.”
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.
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.”
Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church has filed a lawsuit against California over restrictions on indoor worship after the state issued a second lockdown order as part of its response to COVID-19.
According to the report, the suit was filed Wednesday in Superior Court of the state of California for the County of Los Angeles, North Central District, and names Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Beccera, and other officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as defendants.
“California targeted the wrong groups. California first lifted restrictions on gatherings that occurred outdoors, blessing after-the-fact the illegal conduct of the ‘George Floyd’ protestors.”
Grace Community Church and MacArthur state, the government officials are interfering with their religious freedom and selectively restricting gatherings amid the pandemic.
Pastor John MacArthur on Sunday, Aug. 16, defied the mandate of the California Court of Appeal by holding an indoor worship service — further escalating a nationally watched fight over COVID-19 restrictions.
MacArthur, a prominent Calvinist preacher and author, has led his Southern California megachurch to defy public health orders of the city, county and state intended to curb the spread of coronavirus. He and the church’s elders have claimed the church is being persecuted by the government and will not bow to their illegitimate authority over the church.
On Saturday, Aug. 15, a trial court judge ruled that the church could hold indoor services while litigation against the church played out. Los Angeles County had threatened to enforce $1,000-per-day fines and possible imprisonment against MacArthur and other church leaders. On Aug. 13, the church filed suit against the city, county and state, and the county promptly filed countersuit.
Update: A judge ruled late Friday afternoon that Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, can continue hosting indoor worship services and does not have to adhere to any attendance caps or bans on singing.
Los Angeles Pastor John MacArthur filed a lawsuit Wednesday against California over Gov. Gavin Newsom’s second coronavirus lockdown order, including banning singing in houses of worship.
“We feel like we are the most essential reality in the world, Look, Jesus is Lord. He is the head of our church. Govenor Newsom is not the head of the church. Mayor Garcetti is not the head of the church.”
At the end of July, the County of Los Angeles sent a demand letter to MacArthur, in which attorney Jason Tokoro called for the church to “immediately cease holding indoor worship services” or face “criminal and civil liability.”
Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, representing the pastor and the church, called the restrictions “onerous” in the complaint and called on the state to recognize that Christians are not second-class citizens.
“After Grace Community Church voluntarily complied with state orders for nearly six months, California’s edicts demanding an indefinite shut down have gone now far past rational or reasonable and are firmly in the territory of tyranny and discrimination. This isn’t about health,” Ellis said. “It’s about blatantly targeting churches.”
The lawsuit claims the state is acting unconstitutionally and inconsistently.
“When many went to the streets to engage in ‘political protests’ against ‘racism’ and ‘police brutality,’ these protesters refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions. Instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were all too eager to grant a de facto exception for these favored protesters,” the suit reads in part.
“We are simply continuing to do today what we have done for the past 63 years that Grace Community Church has been open to welcome the Los Angeles community and serve their spiritual needs,” MacArthur said in a statement. “We will remain open and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who decide they want to come worship with us.”