Grace Community Church in battle with local authorities over ban

Grace Community Church in suburban Los Angeles recently filed a lawsuit to continue holding indoor services after California issued a second lockdown order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, according to a Religion News report.

Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church accused state officials of violating state law by “unequally” restricting their free exercise of religion during the pandemic while allowing large gatherings for racial justice protests.

The church had reopened its doors to several thousand worshippers in late July. MacArthur said that, as of the lawsuit’s filing, no members of his church have been infected with COVID-19.

“It is time for California to recognize that disfavored religious minorities are not second-class citizens,” states the lawsuit, filed Aug. 12 in the Superior Court of the State of California County of Los Angeles. “It is time for California to explain how it can justify banning worship to prevent the spread of a disease (with an overall mortality rate of 0.02 percent) while it is fine for protestors to spread that disease like wildfire.”

The suit, according to the RNS story, names as defendants Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and other public health and law enforcement officials in the state.

Immediately following the church’s lawsuit, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Chalfant ruled in favor of the church if the church adhered to social distancing standards, wore masks, and took other preventive measures. The following day, Aug. 15, an appellate court overturned Judge Chalfant’s ruling. Grace Community Church met inside the next day for Sunday worship services.

MacArthur stated that he did not know what the authorities were going to do with them or to them but added, “We will not bow to Caesar. The Lord Jesus Christ is our king.”

A Los Angeles County order issued July 29 limits indoor gatherings at houses of worship to 100 people or 25 percent of a building’s capacity, whichever is lower. Singing has also been banned for indoor services. Los Angeles County attorneys have sent a cease and desist letter to the church threatening arrest or a daily fine of $1,000.

A hearing has been scheduled for Sept. 4, when both sides will present their respective cases.