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Sun Valley church defies county order to halt services

Refusal to conduct outdoor sermon

OW Staff Writer | 9/18/2020, midnight

Grace Community Church in Sun Valley held a packed morning service on Sept. 13, defying a court order directing them to refrain from holding indoor services due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pastor John MacArthur prefaced the service by complaining about the many health measures required by local and state authorities to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.

“The question has come up a number of times about why Grace Church does not just comply with the orders that have been laid down for churches, and I thought it might be helpful to give you the list of things that are required of us as a church, so that you understand how utterly impossible that would be,’’ MacArthur said.

He then read a long list of requirements, occasionally drawing laughter from parishioners at rules about parking, restroom protocols and social distancing.

MacArthur said following all the rules would “completely shut the church down.’’

“Obviously, this is not constitutional, but more importantly, it goes against the will of the Lord of the church, who calls us together,’’ the pastor said.

On Sept. 10, a judge issued a temporary restraining order directing the church to refrain from holding indoor services, saying there’s an “immediate threat to public health and safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic.’’

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff also directed Grace Community Church to mandate that congregation members wear masks and practice physical distancing if the house of worship decides to hold outdoor services.

Additionally, he said church officials must allow county health officers onto the property to post a notice of his order and to verify compliance with the county health order aimed at stemming the spread of the coronavirus.

“The court finds the county health order has a real and substantial relationship to public health and safety,’’ Beckloff wrote in the 22-page decision that MacArthur elected to disregard.

Beckloff said the “potential consequences of community spread of COVID-19 and concomitant risk of death to members of the community, associated and unassociated with the church, outweighs the harm that flows from the restriction on indoor worship caused by the county health order.’’

Beckloff heard arguments on Los Angeles County’s motion for a preliminary injunction on Sept. 4, then took the case under submission before ruling. Both he and Judge James Chalfant had collectively denied the county’s four previous bids for a temporary restraining order, but Beckloff said this time, the county had “demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits’’ of its claims.

“The county persuasively argues congregants of the church are not isolated amongst themselves, but circulate within the county outside of their times together in religious worship,’’ Beckloff wrote. “All citizens of the community therefore—even those who do not worship at the church—would be at risk of infection through community spread.’’

Beckloff said the health order is not a ban on worship, but instead provides that it “must take place other than indoors.’’

Church attorney Charles LiMandri said there will be an appeal.

“We are disappointed in the ruling on the preliminary injunction as the court did not apply the strict scrutiny analysis to the government order that we believe is required by the California Constitution and legal precedent,’’ he said.