The Los Angeles Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday against Grace Community Church and its senior pastor John MacArthur, giving the embattled congregation what their legal counsel described as a “setback” in their ongoing fight to resume in-person assembly.
MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s attorneys from the Thomas More Society said Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff “refused to consider their important separation of powers arguments ‘in any meaningful fashion’ and essentially ‘ducked the issue,'” according to statements provided to The Daily Wire.
The judge’s order prohibits the church from “conducting, participating in, or attending any indoor worship services” and also demands any outdoor worship is to be conducted in full compliance with the county’s rules regarding masks and social distancing.
“While the court is mindful that there is no substitute for indoor worship in the ‘spiritual refuge’ of a sanctuary,” the order said in part, “the court cannot ignore the County Health Order does not dictate a ban on worship. Instead, it provides any worship must take place other than indoors. The County Health Order allows worship to occur outdoors, virtually through the internet and in any manner that is not indoors with a large gathering of people.”
The Los Angeles County Superior Court had ruled on Aug. 23 that no court order exists prohibiting Grace Community Church from gathering in-person, despite conflicting rulings from lower courts, as The Daily Wire reported. Since then, Los Angeles County terminated a parking lot lease it had with the church for 45 years and fined them $1,000 for an alleged sign violation.
Apparently signs asking people not to enter if they have an elevated temperature or symptoms of Covid (located at every entrance & exit) aren’t good enough for LA County.
— Jenna Ellis (@JennaEllisEsq) September 9, 2020
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.”
Special counsel Charles LiMandri said he was “disappointed in the ruling,” adding:
[T]he 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.”
Special counsel Jenna Ellis described the ruling as “a temporary setback,” but maintained that neither MacArthur, the church, nor their lawyers plan to give up the fight.
“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 Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely,” Ellis said.
“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,” she added.