Judge denies attempts to shutter Grace Community Church; MacArthur condemns 'misuse of power'

Pastor John MacArthur preaches at Grace Community Church in California, 2019. | Facebook/Grace Community Church

A California court has once again sided with Pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church, denying the County of Los Angeles’ renewed application for a temporary restraining order against the church for holding indoor worship services amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In California Superior Court on Tuesday, Judge Mitchell Beckloff concluded that the county’s attempt to obtain a restraining order did not meet statutory requirements and that the Court of Appeals' order did not justify a new temporary restraining order.  

The next scheduled hearing on the original lawsuit filed by the church against the county and the countersuit filed by the county against the church will take place Sept. 4.

Thomas More Society Special Counsel Paul Jonna applauded the court for "correctly" concluding that Los Angeles County’s "renewed application for a temporary restraining order was both procedurally and substantively defective."

"This was their fourth unsuccessful attempt to obtain a court order prohibiting indoor worship services at Grace Community Church," Jonna said. "We look forward to fully vindicating our clients’ constitutionally protected rights in subsequent proceedings for this important case.”

County officials had attempted to get a court order to shutter MacArthur’s Sun Valley-based church, which has been holding in-person worship services since last month in violation of orders from Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has mandated that churches in some counties refrain from indoor services amid the pandemic.

In a declaration released Monday, MacArthur argued that the county is attempting to impede on his and his congregation’s “free exercise of religion by criminalizing activity directly required by our faith.”

“As a church, we have a moral and religious obligation to continue allowing our congregants to gather in our sanctuary to worship the Lord,” the pastor said, adding that the church is the “core of life for thousands from nursery to seniors.”

“Our church is not an event center. It is a family of lives who love and care for each other in very intensely personal ways,” he said. “So essential to personal well-being that people rushed back as soon as they could. The utter unnecessary deprivation of all our people by completely shutting down the mutual love and care that sustains our people in all the exigencies, pressures and challenges of life, was cruel.”

MacArthur argued that after 63 years of “sacrificial, kindness to our city,” to be repeatedly threatened with court-ordered efforts to shut the church down when no one is sick “reveals an inexplicable preference for a mostly harmless virus over the life-enriching and necessary fellowship of the church.”

“Our leaders and congregation see no real health threat to warrant such restraint. We see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power,” he concluded.

Following the hearing, MacArthur said the church is “very grateful to Judge Beckloff for his reasoned opinion and for taking great care to review this very important matter.”

“As I said in my declaration to the court, we see this action against us as an illegitimate misuse of power,” he said. “It should shock the conscience of every Christian that churches are coming under assault from our own government simply for holding church. Church is essential.”

Los Angeles officials had argued that in-person worship services could contribute to the spread of the coronavirus. 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.

However, MacArthur and the elders at Grace Community Church have argued that it's the church’s biblical duty to remain open.

“We are a church that has a reputation for the last 50 years of obeying the government,” the pastor said in a recent interview with Fox News’ Shannon Bream. 

“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.

“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."

“There's no power given to the government to make those kinds of calls against us. ... We love our neighbors. We're not spreading anything but the Gospel,” MacArthur said, noting that out of 7,000 church members, “no one has had any effect if they’ve had COVID.”

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