‘California targeted the wrong groups’: John MacArthur sues state over worship restrictions

Pastor John MacArthur announced during the Shepherd's Conference held earlier this month that next year's conference will include a summit on biblical inerrancy. Photo taken March 7, 2014.
Pastor John MacArthur announced during the Shepherd's Conference held earlier this month that next year's conference will include a summit on biblical inerrancy. Photo taken March 7, 2014. | Grace Community Church

Pastor John MacArthur of Grace Community Church has filed a lawsuit against California over restrictions on indoor worship after the state issued a second lockdown order as part of its response to COVID-19. 

MacArthur recently began holding indoor worship services at his Sun Valley-based megachurch despite Gov. Gavin Newsom's most recent lockdown orders prohibiting church gatherings.

The suit was filed Wednesday in Superior Court of the state of California for the County of Los Angeles, North Central District, and names Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Beccera, and other officials, including Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti as defendants.

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In the complaint, MacArthur and Grace Community Church accuse state government officials of interfering with their religious freedom and selectively restricting gatherings amid the pandemic.

“When many went to the streets to engage in ‘political’ or ‘peaceful’ protests purportedly against racism and police brutality, these protestors refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions. Instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were all too eager to grant a de facto exception for these favored protestors,” the suit states in part.

“California targeted the wrong groups. California first lifted restrictions on gatherings that occurred outdoors—blessing after-the-fact the illegal conduct of the ‘George Floyd’ protestors. California then banned singing in worship services and then shut them all down—unless they could modify their services to operate identically to the now-legal protests.”

The lawsuit further argues that it's “time for California to recognize that disfavored religious minorities are not second-class citizens.”

“California has no such power to determine whether churches are ‘essential,’ as the federal and state constitutions have already done so,” the suit adds.

“Grace Community Church provides a spiritual service to the Los Angeles community that its congregation and its members rightly believe is essential, and the California State Constitution specifically protects their fundamental rights in this context.”

MacArthur and the church are being represented by the Thomas More Society Special Counsel Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri. 

“Pastor MacArthur and his church, as well as all churches, are entitled to practice their religion without government interference,” LiMandri said in a statement shared with The Christian Post.

“This is especially the case when the government has given free rein to protestors, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, and abortion providers.”

Grace Community Church initially complied with California's restrictions before changing course in recent weeks.

"I’ve been here 50 years; the church is 63 years old, and this church has never had any kind of mandate from the government to close," MacArthur said in a recent interview on the "Edifi With Billy Hallowell" podcast. "So when they came up with this mandate it seemed to be so rare and so unusual that we were listening."

MacArthur told Hallowell that upon hearing dire predictions about the death toll, it was "enough to make anybody with common sense" pause and take steps to ensure no one was endangered.

While the church initially moved to a live stream model and closed down in-person services, within a few weeks, MacArthur said parishioners started showing up again.

Grace Community decided to restart in-person worship services, with church leaders saying that the government did not have the authority to stop them from gathering.

In response, officials from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health reportedly threatened MacArthur with “repercussions such as fines and even possible arrest” if his church doesn’t comply with state orders.

“We are a friend to this society, to every level of this society. We have been given awards and accolades and plaques from the city government, the police department, all in authority, because they recognize what an honorable congregation this church has been,” said MacArthur in an interview with Fox News’ Shannon Bream.

“But never before has the government invaded the territory the belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ and told us we can't meet, we can't worship, we can't sing.”

Recently, Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks wrote a blog post urging churches to weigh whether it's a good idea to follow Grace Community and reopen in-person services.

“Churches in coastal cities during World War Two accommodated evening black-out requirements in case enemy planes hit the coasts. Those churches didn’t insist the government had no right to ‘restrict our worship,’” wrote Leeman.

“In other words, just because you think God will ultimately vindicate your decision to disobey the government on the last day doesn’t mean it’s wise. You might have other options that avoid undue attention.”

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