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.”
MacArthur called the ruling “inexplicable.”
“[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?” the pastor asked.
“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.”
County officials have repeatedly tried to get a court order to shutter Grace Community Church, which has been holding in-person worship services since last month in violation of orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom. The governor has mandated that churches in some counties refrain from indoor services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Previously, officials sent a cease and desist letter to the church and threatened MacArthur with fines and even possible arrest if his church doesn’t comply with state orders.
In August, Los Angeles County terminated a lease agreement for a parking lot the church has used for over 40 years.
Last week, the county fined Grace Community $1,000 for violating a COVID-19 sign ordinance due to the placement of the sign.
In a statement, Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis called the latest ruling a “temporary setback.” She said attorneys will “continue to fight for Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s constitutionally protected right to hold church.”
“While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, Pastor MacArthur is still harmed because he has every right to hold church," Ellis explained.
“Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely,” the lawyer added. “The County’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny. Without limiting government’s power in favor of freedom and protected rights, we have no liberty. We will fight for religious freedom, as our founders did when they wrote the First Amendment.”
“I don’t want to offer myself as any kind of an expert, but a rather telling report came out this week and for the first time, we heard the truth,” he argued. “The CDC … said that in truth, 6% of the deaths that have occurred can be directly attributable to COVID, 94% cannot. Of the 160,000 people that have died, 9,210 actually died from COVID.”
While there has been some confusion over the CDC report, the CDC data indicated that 94% of deaths related to COVID-19 have had other underlying contributing health conditions that factored into death. In all of those cases, COVID-19 was still listed as a contributing factor. The data showed that only 6% of the deaths had only COVID-19 listed as a factor in the cause of death.
In an earlier declaration, the theologian who hosts a syndicated radio program argued that 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, we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord,” MacArthur said, adding that the church is the “core of life for thousands from nursery to seniors.”
According to Los Angeles County officials, over 6,000 people in the county have died from COVID-19.