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Update: LA Superior Court Rules Grace Community Church Cannot be Fined for Worshiping Indoors

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On Thursday August 20, 2020, a Los Angeles Superior Court announced “there is no court order prohibiting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church from holding indoor worship services,” according to the Thomas More Society. This comes after Los Angeles County filed a contempt of court request seeking to fine John MacArthur and Grace Community Church $20,000. The court also instructed the church once again to stop holding indoor worship services due to the state’s coronavirus regulations.

Attorney Jenna Ellis’s response to the latest judicial finding follows:

We are pleased with the outcome today. Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff correctly found there is no court order prohibiting Grace Community Church from holding indoor services. LA County continues to harass and target Pastor MacArthur. Having failed to get a court order to shut down the church they have sought three times, they’re going to try again by hauling us back into court. Ironically, LA County said in its application for contempt that, ‘Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the court when decisions don’t go its way,’ yet that’s precisely what LA County is now doing themselves. We will simply continue to defend our client’s constitutionally protected rights because church is essential.

The Background on Grace Community Church’s Fight With Authorities

Grace Community Church Sued Los Angeles County and the State

On August 13th, 2020, John MacArthur and Grace Community Church sued Los Angeles county and the State of California. The suit filed seeks to stop the enforcement of California’s orders that forbid churches from meeting indoors, an order the church deems unconstitutional. MacArthur and Grace Community Church filed the lawsuit after they received a cease and desist letter banning them from holding indoor worship services due to the spread and rise of positive COVID-19 cases across the state. The letter also threatened to fine them $1,000 a day and/or up to five days in prison for each time they disobey the order.

Grace Community Church Given Permission to Have Services, Then Lost Permission, Again

On Friday, August 14, 2020, a California superior court recognized Grace Community Church’s Constitutional right to worship indoors. But the very next day, the California Court of Appeal set aside Friday’s lower-court ruling. After the county attempted to have a restraining order placed upon Grace Community Church and was unsuccessful, John MacArthur and the church he pastors met on Sunday August 16, 2020 without masks, and with singing.

Los Angeles County Seeking $20,000 in Fines From John MacArthur and Grace Community Church (August 19, 2020)

Los Angeles County filed paperwork on Wednesday August 18th, 2020, with the Superior Court of California requesting Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church be held in contempt of court for holding indoor worship services this past Sunday, August 16th, 2020, in addition to seven previous times.

MacArthur and Grace Community Church’s special counsel Jenna Ellis said,

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.

Contempt of Court Request

The ex parte application (contempt of court request) filed cited that John MacArthur flaunted the violations and openly disregarded the dangers to public health when he said to the congregation Sunday, “So the good news is you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.” The contempt of court request also explained that Grace Community Church has an outdoor worship area setup, yet they “refuse to comply, continuing to hold three indoor services even after the Court of Appeal instructed them not to.” The request points out their disobedience to the court:

Defendants willfully disobeyed the Court Orders and are intent on continuing to do so. Grace Church cannot thumb its nose at the Court when decisions don’t go its way. Accordingly, the Court should issue the requested order to show cause re contempt.

Los Angeles county is seeking fines for eight violations totaling $4,000 per defendant and four violations totaling $6,000 per defendant, which would equal a total of $20,000 between both John MacArthur ($10,000) and Grace Community Church ($10,000).

Furthermore, the county claims the church refused county health officials entry when they tried to verify the order was being followed at Grace Community Church.

Meanwhile, the church elders have asked members to write to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors expressing their belief that “church is essential” and that the government is “obligated to protect our liberties and freedoms, especially our free exercise of religion.”

Read the entire Plaintiffs’ Ex Parte Application for an Order to Show Cause re Contempt and for Sanctions for Violations of Court Orders here.