Los Angeles County is requesting that Grace Community Church and its senior pastor John MacArthur be held in contempt of court and fined tens of thousands of dollars after they held three indoor worship services on Sunday in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions.
According to its request filed Wednesday, the county is seeking a $1,000 fine for each act of contempt they allege against the church, as well as an extra $1,500 for every violation of a court order. The total would add up to $20,000.
“Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions don’t go its way,” the request reads in part. “Accordingly, the Court should issue the requested order to show cause re contempt.”
“Defendants’ actions this past Sunday likewise constitute four separate violations of the TRO and Court of Appeal Order by each Defendant. Therefore, the Court should sanction each Defendant $1,500 per violation, for a total of $6,000 per Defendant,” the order continues, which names both the church and MacArthur as defendants.
As The Daily Wire reported, the prominent church in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles made headlines in July when they did not comply with Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s renewed lockdown orders against houses of worship and other establishments the state deems “non-essential.”
MacArthur and the church later sued the state of California after they received a cease and desist letter demanding they stop gathering inside their building or face fines and imprisonment. A county judge allowed them to meet indoors as long as they wore masks and practiced social distancing, but an appellate court put a stay on that order late Saturday night.
Jenna Ellis, the church’s attorney, told The Daily Wire: “The LA County Board of Supervisors has decided to continue their unconstitutional attack against Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church. They are now asking the court to hold the church in contempt for simply being open for worship last Sunday.”
“Pastor MacArthur is standing firm that church is essential and has no plans to yield to this tyrannical board, which is clearly defying the constitution’s mandate to protect religious liberty,” she added.
The introduction to the county’s request accuses Grace Church of endangering the community because they “deliberately disobeyed State and County health orders.” They go on to cite Supreme Court precedent to claim there are limits to liberty:
As the United States Supreme Court recognized 115 years ago: “The possession and enjoyment of all rights are subject to such reasonable conditions as may be deemed by the governing authority of the country essential to the safety, health, peace, good order and morals of the community. Even liberty itself, the greatest of all rights, is not unrestricted license to act according to one’s own will.” Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11, 26-27 (1905) (quotation omitted).
Defendants are placing their right to worship indoors above the health and welfare of County residents. Under the State and County public health orders and the Court Orders, Defendants are still permitted to worship outdoors with unlimited attendance and through live streaming, both of which Defendants are already doing. But that is not enough for them. They are publicly advertising their intention to continue flouting State and County public health orders and the Court Orders by holding mass services indoors.