Los Angeles County has failed for the fourth time during the current pandemic to shut down indoor church services at Grace Community Church of the Valley, a Christian megachurch.
The ruling comes as polling suggests Americans remain generally supportive of measures such as social-distancing aimed at mitigating the CCP virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
But people are growing tired of certain restrictions. For example, people now regularly flood beaches in California and elsewhere, even where state or local rules forbid it, and there have been many reports of churchgoers across the nation attending religious services in person, even if it means violating public health edicts.
The county’s request for a temporary restraining order against the church was heard Aug. 24, and the next day, Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff of the Superior Court of California in Los Angeles County denied the order, citing “the absence of new law or circumstances” justifying the granting of the injunction.
Beckloff also clarified that an order issued days ago by a state appeals court didn’t justify granting a temporary restraining order. The appeals court ruling merely stayed another judge’s order and gave the county a green light to enforce its own emergency public health order, he found.
“The court correctly concluded that Los Angeles County’s renewed application for a temporary restraining order was both procedurally and substantively defective,” church attorney Paul Jonna said in a statement. The church is represented by the Chicago-based Thomas More Society, a public-interest law firm specializing in religious freedom issues.
“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.”
Thomas More Society special counsel Jenna Ellis said, “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, and there exists no rational basis, much less a compelling interest, to try to shut down indoor services at this point, particularly when the county is allowing strip clubs to operate and massive riots to take place—and not seeking restraining orders against them.”
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Sept. 4 in Los Angeles Superior Court.
Church pastor John MacArthur said that the legal action against his church was “an illegitimate misuse of power” that “should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church.”
“Church is essential,” the pastor said in a statement.
“We are very grateful to Judge Beckloff for his reasoned opinion and for taking great care to review this very important matter.”
In California, many indoor activities were banned in July after rules were relaxed and new infections reportedly rose. Places of worship in the Golden State are now restricted to a maximum of 25 percent of building capacity or 100 attendees indoors, whichever is lower, and singing and chanting are forbidden. Many churches in the state—and outside it—are simply ignoring the restrictions, saying it’s their constitutional right to do so.
In a declaration filed with the court, MacArthur said the church, which was founded in 1956, suspended in-person services on March 12, before the county or state issued stay-at-home orders banning large gatherings. Morning and evening worship services, along with regular weekly bible studies, were conducted online. A few days later, when government lockdown orders were issued, the church abided by them, he said.
But after not holding in-person services for 19 weeks, church elders voted unanimously at a board meeting July 23 to reopen the church for such services, MacArthur said. Indoor services began July 26 and were followed by a cease-and-desist letter from the county on July 29.
Counsel for the county, Jason H. Tokoro and Amnon Z. Siegel of the law firm Miller Barondess, didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.