California’s Grace Community Church, pastored by well-known Bible teacher John MacArthur, has to stop holding indoor services, following a court ruling, today. Update MacArthur has told a Foxnews interviewer that his church will meet this Sunday “as before”, presumably meaning inside, in defiance of the court injunction,
The church has been defying a Los Angeles public health officials ruling since early August, with MacArthur telling his church “there is no pandemic.” The 3500-seat church has been packed, with church videos from the first weeks of defiance showing no masks and no social distancing. At the first service held following the issuing of the health board orders, MacArthur told his congregation that not wearing masks and not social distancing is good news.
“While the court is mindful that there is no substitute for indoor worship in the ‘spiritual refuge’ of a sanctuary, the court cannot ignore the County Health Order does not dictate a ban on worship,” Judge Mitchell Beckloff wrote in his decision granting the county’s request for a preliminary injunction according to the LA Times.
The court order remains in effect pending a full hearing.
“The order allows outdoor services — which were already permitted under the county’s public health order — only if the church follows physical distancing and face covering measures,” the Times reports. County officials said in a statement that they went to court “only after significant efforts to work with the leaders of Grace Community Church to protect public health” were unsuccessful.
“The ruling fails to apply the appropriate constitutional standard of review,” according to the Grace Church lawyers from the Thomas More Society. “The order prohibits the church from ‘conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services’ and also bans outdoor worship unless onerous restrictions are followed in a heavy-handed move against the internationally known preacher and his congregation.”
Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri said, “We are disappointed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction as the court did not apply the strict scrutiny analysis to the government order that we believe is required by the California Constitution and legal precedent. The court also did not properly consider the medical and scientific evidence that the current number of people with serious COVID-19 symptoms no longer justifies a shuttering of the churches. Nor do we believe that the court gave adequate consideration to the fact that churches have been treated as second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protestors. More than ever, California’s churches are essential. Therefore, we plan to appeal this ruling to ultimately vindicate our clients’ constitutionally protected right to free exercise of religion.”