The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction against John MacArthur and Grace Community Church on September 10, 2020. Three days later, the church held indoor services, defying Los Angeles County and the court order.
In a statement from the Thomas More Society, which is representing the church along with the law firm Limandri and Jonna, MacArthur said:
“In an inexplicable ruling, the judge said the ‘scale tipped in favor of the county.’ 1/100th of 1% of Californians with a virus apparently wins over the U.S. Constitution and religious freedom for all? That is not what our founders said. Nor is that what God says, who gave us our rights that our government—including the judicial branch—is supposed to protect. The scale should always tip in favor of liberty, especially for churches.”
I recently spoke with Paul Jonna, one of the attorneys in the case. He explained that the church began holding indoor services at the end of July, after months of not meeting together. The county then sent a cease and desist letter to the church.
Grace Community responded by filing a lawsuit against the state of California and LA County on August 12, 2020. In the meantime, LA County filed an emergency restraining order against the church holding indoor services. The county also terminated a 45-year lease with the church on a large portion of its parking lot.
That order went through several rounds of court battles before a court ruled that the continued “application for a temporary restraining order was both procedurally and substantively defective.” The court held a hearing on the appeal for a temporary restraining order on September 4, and it was that ruling that came out last week – and which Grace Community disregarded.
Jonna said there are important issues at stake in the church’s battle, such as the violation of California’s constitutional guarantee of the “free exercise and enjoyment of religion without discrimination or preference.”
The lawsuit also brings up the question of the California Constitution’s express description of separation of powers. The suit questions whether Governor Gavin Newsom has the authority to declare an ongoing, months-long state of emergency, giving authority to non-elected officials in the Department of Public Health “with complete discretion to decide fundamental issues of policy that surround the controversial topic of restricting how people may worship.”
The suit also mentions the double standard of state and local officials applauding protests while banning church services. Jonna noted that the church offers members a variety of options for attendance, including the ability to watch the service outdoors in a tent or on the internet.
The church has signs warning about COVID-19 risks and asking members not to enter the building “if you have an elevated temperature, a cough, or any flu-like symptoms.” LA County fined the church for improper placement of the signs and for not instructing members to wear masks, maintain distancing and wear face coverings.” When I spoke with Jonna, the church had no reported coronavirus cases.
At Sunday’s service, MacArthur said, “The question has come up a number of times about why Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches.” He then went on to read the list of things the county and state were asking the church to do.
“Here are the basic orders,” he said:
- No indoor meetings at all.
- Pre-registration of every person who comes onto church property.
- People only allowed on church property for scheduled events.
- Every person who comes on the property is to be screened and have their temperature taken at the entry.
- We all must maintain six feet of social distance at all times everywhere, including the parking lot and the restrooms.
- Every other parking space must be left vacant.
- Marked pathways to maintain social distance.
- Keeping people apart monitored by staff monitors.
- Everyone always wearing a mask.
- Restroom monitors to control six feet social distancing at restrooms
- Tape on the ground marking distance.
- Signs indicating these mandates and also full exposure on social media.
- Restrooms are to be used during the service to minimize the rush.
- No hymnbooks, no communion, no offering containers, no pew Bibles, no singing, no hugging, no shaking hands.
- Disposable seat covers changed between services.
- The services have to be shortened.
MacArthur said that based on the separation guidelines, the church would have to meet in their onsite tent, with a maximum of 350 to 400 people. Prior to the pandemic, weekly attendance was over 8,200. He added that the “requirements would completely shut the church down” and that “anyone in the church who comes in contact with someone outside their family for more than 15 minutes must self-quarantine for two weeks.”
The church will press ahead with its lawsuit and continue to fight this latest court order. Mac Arthur said, “Obviously, this is not constitutional, but more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the church. He calls us to gather.”
Photo from Wikipedia
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