Yesterday, LA County asked the Superior Court of California to hold Grace Community Church and John MacArthur in contempt of court for violating the August 14 modified temporary restraining order of Judge Chalfant and then the Court of Appeals ruling on August 15th by having services on August 16th and by refusing to allow County health officials access to the church.
Read the LA County application to hold Grace Community Church in contempt
LA County’s Health Order prohibits indoor worship services as one means of stopping the spread of COVID-19. John MacArthur and Grace Community Church believes the order infringes on their rights to gather and worship. Consequently, they have met for indoor worship in violation of the Health Order. On August 14, in response to a request from LA County for a restraining order to halt indoor worship, County Judge James Chalfant denied in part and granted in part the order by allowing Grace Community to meet if they wore masks and physically distanced. LA County then went to the Court of Appeal to ask for that court to set aside the lower court order which it did. At that point, Grace Community disobeyed the Health Order and did not wear masks or physical distance in the Sunday service. Now, the County wants the church and MacArthur held in contempt with sanctions applied.
The County requested a citation of contempt which could lead to a $1,000 fine and up to five days in jail and sanctions which, if imposed, could amount to $1,500 per violation. Depending on how many violations are determined by the court, the fines could be substantial.
In response, the church is not backing down. A press release issued this evening stated: “Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church…are the targets of a County of Los Angeles request to be held in contempt of court. Thomas More Society attorneys are representing the internationally followed preacher and his church and defending their religious freedoms against the county’s unconstitutional violation of the right to worship together.”
Thomas More/MacArthur suit against California
UPDATE: Grace Community Church conducted an indoor meeting this morning with little masking or social distancing. In fact, near the beginning of the service, John MacArthur said, “the good news is that you’re here, you’re not distancing, and you’re not wearing masks.” You can hear that quote in the second part of the audio below.
Yesterday, the California Court of Appeal set aside Judge Chalfant’s lower court partial denial of Los Angeles County’s restraining order on indoor worship at John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church.
Read the Court of Appeal ruling
Los Angeles County filed an emergency request with the Court of Appeal to prevent Grace Community Church from having indoor services this morning. In short, the Court of Appeal ruled that county’s Health Order had support from prior court rulings and was likely to be upheld at trial. The Court of Appeal held that the order should be upheld at least until the September 4th hearing, although the church will have an opportunity to present a rebuttal by August 25.
I thought about writing a post about John MacArthur’s decision to defy Governor Newsom’s restrictions of church gatherings. I planned to argue that his decision places his congregation and community in jeopardy. I also find fault with his Christian nationalist rationale for violating a legitimate public health edict. However, sometimes a tweet does this trick. Take this one from Hunter Crowder:
The state of California has a compelling interest in limiting the spread of COVID-19. California now has overtaken New York in the number of cases in the U.S. Indoor church activities make spread easier for the virus and it is easy to understand why the governor wants to limit indoor crowd size.
The Supreme Court twice has let stand rulings that allowed states to restrict religious services and they may do it again. MacArthur may be using this for attention, I don’t know. However, given the situation before us, Hunter has as good a theory as anyone.
I have been tracking churches as a source of spread of COVID-19. You can see that post here.
For more on the COVID-19 outbreak at Allaso Ranch, click here.