Los Angeles Pastor John MacArthur has earned the right to preach from the pulpit with his congregation in tow during the pandemic. Los Angeles County officials tried to bar churches from meeting with burdensome regulations, but a judge sided with Grace Community Church in concluding that church was an essential service, allowing them to remain open and hold indoor services in their sanctuaries until a full hearing on September 4.
Attorneys Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, who are special counsels for the Thomas More Society, filed the church's lawsuit against Gov. Newsom, wondering why he was allowing George Floyd-related riots and protests to continue, but not Sunday services. This "favoritism," they write, was causing harm to the community and leading to spikes in coronavirus cases.
"It is time for California to recognize that disfavored religious minorities are not second-class citizens," the lawyers insist. "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%) while it is fine for protestors to spread that disease like wildfire."
Judge James Chalfant seemed to agree, as he denied almost all of the county's requests at the August 14 Los Angeles Superior Court hearing.
Of course, the caveat was that they have to abide by some social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. But Pastor MacArthur said that's no sweat.
"I am very grateful the court has allowed us to meet inside and we are happy for a few weeks to comply and respect what the judge has asked of us because he is allowing us to meet," MacArthur said after the win. "This vindicates our desire to stay open and serve our people. This also gives us an opportunity to show that we are not trying to be rebellious or unreasonable, but that we will stand firm to protect our church against unreasonable, unconstitutional restrictions."
LiMandri celebrated the decision.
"This result is indeed a great victory for all citizens' constitutional right to freedom of religion," said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Charles LiMandri. "Pastor MacArthur's love of God and country motivated him and all the Grace Community Church elders to resist the unjust government shut-down orders targeting people of faith. Their devotion and patriotism have brought about a result that respects the legitimate interests of both the church and state."
Again, the full hearing is on September 4, at which point it will be the county's burden to show why it should be permitted to infringe on Grace Community Church's right to assemble.