Coronavirus

Judge Allows L.A. County to Temporarily Shut Down Church

Grace Community Church has been subject to fines, land seizures since attempting to restart services

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A California judge granted Los Angeles County a victory over Grace Community Church on Thursday by temporarily suspending indoor worship at the church.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction halting any indoor worship services in the church as the legal questions surrounding the case are decided. A final decision is expected next week after hearings on the case were held on Sept. 4.

The decision cited the health threat of the coronavirus and argued that the risk of the virus spreading outweighed the harm from restrictions on worship.

"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," the decision stated.

The legal representation for the church argued that the church has been treated like a second-class citizen and the government gave preferential treatment to Black Lives Matter protesters.

"While the judge did go out of his way to repeatedly state that he is not ruling on the merits, only a ruling at this very preliminary stage, [Pastor John MacArthur] is still harmed because he has every right to hold church," Jenna Ellis, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, said. "Church is essential, and no government agent has the runaway, unlimited power to force churches to close indefinitely."

Los Angeles County praised the decision and said that they "look forward" to working with the church.

"We went to court only after significant efforts to work with the leaders of Grace Community Church to protect public health. We now look forward to working with church leaders on a plan to move services outdoors with physical distancing and the use of face coverings, which will allow worshipers to gather for religious observances in a manner that is lower risk and consistent with public health directives," the county said in a statement.

The injunction marked a victory for the county, which has been taking more aggressive action against the church over the past couple of weeks. The county terminated a decades-old lease with the church for a portion of the church's parking lot and also fined the church for having misplaced signs regarding coronavirus guidance.