California Church That Broke COVID Rules Will Get $800,000 From County, State

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
August 31, 2021 Updated: August 31, 2021

LOS ANGELES—A Sun Valley church that repeatedly flouted health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic will be paid $800,000 to settle its legal battle with Los Angeles County and the state—with the county Board of Supervisors voting Aug. 31 to pay half that cost.

Los Angeles County has already spent more than $950,000 in attorneys fees and other costs in the case of Grace Community Church, according to a legal summary provided to the board.

Led by Pastor John MacArthur, the church defied county health orders again and again over the past year, most notably by continuing to hold indoor services despite a ban on such gatherings, while also refusing to enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements for church-goers.

County health officials repeatedly cited the church, then took the matter to court to obtain an injunction requiring the church to adhere to health regulations, saying they were essential to control the spread of COVID-19. The church, meanwhile, sued the state and the county, arguing the COVID rules amounted to constitutional violations of religious freedom.

Last September, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff issued a preliminary injunction sought by the county, saying the “potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant 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 caused by the (Los Angeles County) health order.”

However, the church continued to hold indoor services and violated other health mandates. That led county attorneys to seek a contempt ruling against the church.

Grace Community Church attorneys fought back, filing a motion to have the injunction lifted and the contempt request dismissed, citing two U.S. Supreme Court decisions. In one, a Catholic diocese and a group of Jewish synagogues successfully challenged New York’s restrictions on churches.

The high court later struck down California’s indoor worship ban while allowing caps on attendance and a ban on singing.

“California treats some comparable secular activities more favorably than at-home religious exercise,” stated the ruling (pdf). “[T]he State has not shown that ‘public health would be imperiled’ by employing less restrictive measures.”

In a letter to supporters of the John MacArthur Charitable Trust, obtained by The Los Angeles Times, he called the settlement a “monumental victory” and said “there is no circumstance that can cause the church to close. The church is not only a building but is the bride of Christ and exists to proclaim the truth.”

The county’s $400,000 payment will come out of the public health budget.

City News Service
City News Service