SUN VALLEY, Ca. — A Los Angeles megachurch went about business as usual Sunday morning with a packed service three days after a court order told them to refrain from having indoor services due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Grace Community Pastor John MacArthur told his congregation: “Obviously, this is not constitutional, but more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the church, who calls us together.”
Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff issued a preliminary injunction repeatedly sought by Los Angeles County health officials, who argued that Grace Community Church was putting people at risk of COVID-19 infection by staging indoor services with throngs of people who didn't use masks or practice social distancing.
Since late July, the Sun Valley evangelical church ignored the county health order that permitted only online or outdoor services with proper safety measures.
MacArthur and the church’s elders say Grace Community Church’s actions are founded on biblical principles. According to a statement, church leaders believe the government is charged with protecting civic order and well-being. But the government can’t dictate “the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church.”
Beckloff sided with the county's argument that the services were an immediate threat to public health and safety.
The “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,” the ruling said.
Grace and a few other churches argued that the public health order was excessive and an assault on freedom of religion.
However, Beckloff ruled that the order “does not dictate a ban on worship.”
Church attorney Charles LiMandri plans on appealing the order.
“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,” he said. “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.”
LiMandri said the court has treated churches like “second-class citizens compared to the tens of thousands of protesters.”
Co-attorney Jenna Ellis said in a statement, “The county’s argument was basically ‘because we can,’ which is the very definition of tyranny.”
LiMandri argued relevant statistics show deaths are down and the infection rate is lower in California than in other states where churches are open.
“The coronavirus is dying out,” LiMandri said. He argued protests after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked the rise in cases, not people going to church. “They are targeting the church. They don’t go after the protesters.”