On Monday August 24, 2020, Los Angeles County returned to the courts for a fourth time in an attempt to shut down Grace Community Church’s indoor worship services. The county’s temporary restraining order was denied again.
”This was their fourth unsuccessful attempt to obtain a court order prohibiting indoor worship services at Grace Community Church. We look forward to fully vindicating our clients’ constitutionally protected rights in subsequent proceedings for this important case,” Special Counsel Paul Jonna said.
Judge Denies Restraining Order for Indoor Worship Services
On Tuesday August 25, 2020 Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff, of the California Superior Court, denied the County of Los Angeles their application for a temporary restraining order against Grace Community Church and John MacArthur. (Read the full order by Judge Beckloff here.)
“We are very grateful to Judge Beckloff for his reasoned opinion and for taking great care to review this very important matter,” a thankful MacArthur said. “As I said in my declaration to the court, we see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power. It should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church. Church is essential.”
Attorney Jenna Ellis also commented after the judge’s decision on Tuesday saying, “This should signal to LA County that California courts will not quickly or easily trample the constitutionally protected rights of churches. We maintain that their health order is unconstitutionally burdening the right of churches to worship…we look forward to making those arguments at a subsequent proceeding, where we will ask the court to properly check this power grab by Los Angeles County and the State of California’s executive branch.” Attorney Ellis is referring to their next hearing scheduled on September 4, 2020 in the Los Angeles Superior Court.
How Did We Get Here?
Last week the county attempted to file a contempt of court order against John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, but Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff found there was no court order prohibiting their indoor worship services. Read more about the contempt of court and the attempt to fine John MacArthur and Grace Community Church $20,000 here.
John MacArthur then filed a Declaration against the county of Los Angeles on Sunday August 23, 2020. The declaration was written on his behalf and on the behalf of the Board of Elders of Grace Community Church. The legal definition of a declaration “is a written statement submitted to a court in which the writer swears ‘under penalty of perjury’ that the contents are true.”
John MacArthur States His Case in Declaration
We believe that civil disobedience is justified only when government compels us to sin, or when there is no legal recourse for fighting injustice. – John MacArthur
Pastor MacArthur articulated the church’s understanding of the county’s indoor ban as follows: “The worship-bans appear to take the position that we should lock our doors, and force our congregants to gather to worship the Lord in parking lots, in parks, or perhaps beaches—but never in any church. From Grace Community Church’s perspective, this is nonsensical, and we view it as a direct ban on engaging in the worship which our faith requires.”
MacArthur also gave a reason for their reasoning behind not meeting outdoors: “The size of our congregation means that there is no place for it to meet outdoors; the summer heat makes meeting outdoors unhealthy and even dangerous; our experts have refuted that meeting indoors significantly aids in the spread of the coronavirus; and most principally, Grace Community Church’s sanctuary itself is a spiritual refuge for our congregants—a refuge of which the county has no right to deprive them.
We Have a Moral and Religious Obligation to Stay Open
In the declaration, John MacArthur writes that the state bans originating on July 13th and 14th of this year place a burden on his and Grace Community Church’s “free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith. As a Church, we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord.”
Our Church Is Not an Event Center
“Our church is not an event center. It is a family of lives who love and care for each other in very intensely personal ways,” MacArthur wrote. To illustrate this point, MacArthur said people rushed back to church as soon as they could, showing that meeting in person is “essential” to their lives. “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. And after 63 years of sacrificial, kindness to our city, to be repeatedly threatened with court-ordered efforts to shut Grace Community Church down when no one is sick, reveals an inexplicable preference for a mostly harmless virus over the life-enriching and necessary fellowship of the church,” he wrote in conclusion.
Our leaders and congregation see no real health threat to warrant such restraint. We see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power.
President Trump Expresses Support of John MacArthur
President Trump called Pastor John MacArthur the Sunday after he and the Grace Community Church Elders released a statement entitled “Christ, not Caesar, Is Head of the Church,” which stated they would continue to hold indoor services and not close their indoor worship services as mandated by the state and local governments due to the coronavirus.
The President thanked pastor MacArthur for taking a stand and said church is essential. They also discussed that “from a Biblical standpoint” why Christians couldn’t vote for a democratic candidate. “There is no way a Christian can affirm the slaughter of babies, homosexual activity, homosexual marriage, or any kind of gross immorality…no way we could stand behind a candidate who is affirming transgender behavior,” MacArthur said as he referenced Romans 1.
These things aren’t even political for us, these things are Biblical.
MacArthur told the President that “any real true believer is going to be on your side in this election,” explaining that the election isn’t about choosing an individual candidate, rather it is an entire set of policies Christians cannot “in any way affirm.”