The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to pay Grace Community Church, which garnered national attention for defying governmental COVID-19 restrictions, as part of a settlement agreement.
The county said that it had decided to pay the church based on Supreme Court rulings earlier this year declaring that churches in California could be exempt from enforcement of some of the state’s coronavirus policies. The church will receive $400,000 from the county.
“After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that some public health safety measures could not apply to houses of worship, resolving this litigation is the responsible and appropriate thing to do,” the county’s legal team said in a statement.
“We are grateful to the county’s faith organizations for their continued partnership to keep their congregants and the entire community safe and protected from COVID-19,” they added.
The state of California will pay the church $400,000 as well, bringing the total to $800,000.
In the days before the vote, the church’s pastor, John MacArthur, said in a letter that the pending legal settlement was a “monumental victory for Grace Community Church,” reports The Los Angeles Times.
“We know that there is no circumstance that can cause the church to close,” MacArthur said in the letter. “The church is not only a building but is the bride of Christ and exists to proclaim the truth.”
The settlement ends the legal battle that had been ongoing between the church and county for several months. As reported by the Los Angeles Daily News, last September during the midst of the controversy, the county’s attorney, Amnon Siegel, said, “Religion doesn’t trump public health and safety, especially under these circumstance.”
In February, the Supreme Court ruled that churches in California could no longer be legally closed, though it decided that some restrictions could still be in place for worship.
The Supreme Court expanded church’s freedom in April saying that California was treating religious establishments more strictly then secular businesses and places.
“[G]overnment regulations are not neutral and generally applicable, and therefore trigger strict scrutiny under the Free Exercise Clause, whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” the ruling said.
The justices added, “… the State has not shown that ‘public health would be imperiled’ by employing less restrictive measures.”
The county’s decision to pay Grace Community garnered praise from the church’s attorneys, Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri of the Thomas More Society. Ellis posted the statement to Twitter.
“We are very pleased to see Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s First Amendment protections fully vindicated in this case. It has been a hard-fought battle to preserve religious liberty and we hope that this result will encourage Californians, and all Americans, to continue to stand that the church is essential,” the statement said.
After following state guidelines for the initial months of the pandemic, eventually the church stopped enforcing the state’s and county’s Covid guidelines. The subsequent legal battle is now over.