Liberties Reporting on First Amendment freedoms

Judge refuses to stop MacArthur’s church from meeting

Religious Liberty | California worshippers continue to meet as their cases go to court
by Steve West
Posted 8/25/20, 05:23 pm

After a monthlong tug of war, John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church likely will meet indoors and in person again on Sunday after a judge refused to enforce Los Angeles County’s gathering ban by court order—at least for now.

MacArthur filed a declaration just before the hearing calling the restrictions on worship a misuse of state power: “The utter unnecessary deprivation of all our people by completely shutting down the mutual love and care that sustains our people in all the exigencies, pressures, and challenges of life, was cruel.”

In his five-page order issued on Tuesday, California Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled the county’s request for a temporary restraining order was defective, noting officials haven’t cited the Grace Community for violating its health restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic. He did not strike down the gathering ban, which will allow Los Angeles County to fine the church.

MacArthur and the church initially sued state and local officials over their constitutional rights after the county sent a cease-and-desist letter threatening fines or imprisonment if the congregation continued meeting inside its sanctuary in Sun Valley, a Los Angeles neighborhood. A California judge on Aug. 15 allowed them to continue to meet until the matter could be resolved, provided that congregants adhered to social distancing and wore masks.

That truce proved short-lived. A panel of appellate judges stayed the ruling the next day on the eve of Sunday services. Church went on, with most attendees not wearing masks and little evidence of social distancing.

At a hearing on Thursday, Beckloff declined to hold MacArthur and Grace Community in contempt for continuing to meet. The judge said no court order prohibited the church from gathering in person, only state and county bans. He reiterated that stance in Tuesday’s ruling. A full hearing on the matter is scheduled for Sept. 4.

Other churches have already faced consequences for continuing to meet. A Ventura County, Calif., court on Friday fined Godspeak Calvary Chapel in the Thousand Oaks community northwest of Los Angeles a total of $3,000 for holding indoor worship services on Aug. 9 and Aug. 16 despite a temporary restraining order issued on Aug. 7. Risking further fines, congregants packed the church on Sunday. Pastor Rob McCoy urged the watching press to “do your job and report the truth” and said no one attending the church had contracted COVID-19. He noted that several other churches in the area also opened for indoor worship, creating a challenging situation for authorities. Government officials also have levied fines against North Valley Baptist Church in Santa Clara, located farther north in California’s Silicon Valley.

MacArthur said on Fox News on Friday that authorities at the local police department told him “there is no scenario that they can even imagine in which they would come and close down Grace Community Church and put anybody in jail because they enforce the law, and health mandates and governors’ mandates don’t constitute law.”

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Steve West

Steve is a legal correspondent for WORLD. He is a graduate of World Journalism Institute, Wake Forest University School of Law, and N.C. State University. He worked for 34 years as a federal prosecutor and is now an attorney in private practice. Steve resides with his wife in Raleigh, N.C. Follow him on Twitter @slntplanet.

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  •  SleeperSRT10's picture
    Posted: Tue, 08/25/2020 05:39 pm

    John MacArthur is a modern day Daniel.

  • psubrent
    Posted: Wed, 08/26/2020 11:14 am

    Not by any stretch of the imagination.

    Posted: Thu, 08/27/2020 11:10 am

    Then there are the Davids: religious schools. If the Goliath of the State is forced to concede "the communal nature of [the affected families'] faith—the importance of their children receiving spiritual instruction and worshipping alongside others" -- well, that will open the doors wide for churches like Grace Community to welcome worshipers inside.

  • RC
    Posted: Wed, 08/26/2020 11:53 am

    Mutual love and care was not shut down.  Only meeting in a building was shut down.   

    Which is more cruel, missing a few face to face services or sacrificing a few of your members to a deadly virus, unnecessarily?

    I don’t know, but it sure looks like this is all about you and your personal need to meet. There are bigger issues here for the whole population.  Are you worried that your leadership is not strong enough to withstand meeting remotely/virtually for a few more months, till this is over?  I would hope that you could give your membership a little more credit to stay through this crisis. 

  • Sun shine
    Posted: Tue, 09/01/2020 10:22 am

    I'm curious.  With any of these churches, has there been deaths from COVID breakouts?  They've been meeting for well over a month so it seems that if community health is the issue, they're actually proving the risk of disease spread might not be as high as originally thought.  I'd be interested to know how many churches across the US are meeting and how many have had COVID spread, from meeting, resulting in hospitalization and death.  It seems to be very, very few....

  • not silent
    Posted: Fri, 09/04/2020 01:08 pm

    I have read about several cases where an outbreak of COVID 19 was traced to a church gathering.  Perhaps that has not happened with SOME churches, but it HAS happened with others.

    Since it's been documented that SOME deaths have been caused by COVID infections which were the direct result of church meetings, I'm curious about exactly how many deaths or lasting effects from illness would be acceptable. (Someone I know personally is under 65 and not part of any risk group but has permanent lung damage FROM COVID.)  Is it okay if we are only causing "very, very few" deaths?  How is that different from saying we are okay with the deaths of unborn children as long as abortion is "rare"?

     I'm not personally afraid of dying, but I don't want my actions to cause someone else to die-directly or indirectly.  It's one thing for non-believers to avoid the church or Christianity because of the offense of the gospel itself.  Do we want them to start avoiding Christians and/or the church because they don't want to risk infection?

    I understand the desire to meet in person, but this is only for a season.  A temporary closing of buildings to protect people from illness is not the same as having the government permanently closing churches or banning them. 

    In China, the government has literally destroyed church buildings and arrested large groups of believers; but they have not succeeded in destroying the Body of Christ.  The gospel is spreading faster in China than it is here.  I've heard that the fastest growing church in the world is in Iran, of all places.  I don't want to lose our freedom, of course-and I am concerned about situations that DO seem dangerous for our religious freedom-but I don't think this PARTICULAR situation represents a loss of religious freedom.  AND I believe that God is sovereign and in control, whether we are free or not.

    There are a lot of things that require discernment and prayer.  Regarding COVID and restrictions, I wish that we, as the church, would show that we are willing to make sacrifices for a season to protect others.