California’s Grace Community Church and its head pastor, John MacArthur, won the right to continue meeting in person for worship on Friday after state ordinances deemed religious services as unessential, but it was quickly overruled by an emergency order enacted by the California Court of Appeals the next day, making it again illegal for the church to meet indoors.
BREAKING NEWS: ? Just moments ago the California Court of Appeal blocked a lower court ruling that would have allowed @johnmacarthur & Grace Community Church to hold indoor church services. This is a direct assault on religious liberty.
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) August 16, 2020
“At this very preliminary stage in this litigation, the County has demonstrated a likelihood that it will prevail on the merits of enforcing its July 18, 2020, Health Order,” the three judges wrote in the opinion on Saturday.
The county of Los Angeles attempted to file a “temporary restraining order,”’ but Judge James Chalfant sided with Grace and “denied almost all of the county’s requests” claiming that the church “should be permitted to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of churches to freely exercise religion” as long “congregants wear masks and social distance between family groups indoors.” A full hearing will be held on September 4, 2020.
Grace Community Church has been embroiled in litigation since they first defied California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s orders to cease indoor gatherings in certain counties in early July.
“We do not need the state’s permission to serve and worship our Lord as He has commanded,” the church said. “Freedom of worship is a command of God, not a privilege granted by the state.”
“It has never been the prerogative of civil government to order, modify, forbid, or mandate worship,” MacArthur and the church’s elders added. “When, how, and how often the church worships is not subject to Caesar. Caesar himself is subject to God.”
Tensions between the county and Grace Community Church rose in early August when the City of Los Angeles issued a cease and desist letter to the church “threatening a daily $1000 fine or MacArthur’s arrest” if members didn’t stop meeting in person.
Legal counsel for Grace, including Thomas More Society counsel Erick Kaardal, attorney Charles LiMandri, and President Trump’s private legal counsel and senior legal advisor to the Trump 2020 campaign Jenna Ellis, claim that these threats against the church violate their members’ constitutional rights.
“The state has absolutely no power to impose the restrictions it is demanding,” Ellis said. “This is not about health and safety, it is about targeting churches.”
“It is unconstitutional for Governor Newsom and the State of California to discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment,” LiMandri added.