LA County Aims to Hold Pastor Challenging Coronavirus Guidance in Contempt

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September 25, 2020

Los Angeles County is seeking to hold the pastor defying the state's coronavirus orders in contempt, prompting a superior court judge to send the case to a full trial to determine the fate of religious worship during the pandemic.

Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mitchell L. Beckloff ruled Thursday that the legal clash between Grace Community Church and Los Angeles County will head to a full trial and declined to hold Pastor John MacArthur in contempt before the trial proceeds. The county pushed for MacArthur to be held in contempt and potentially face jail time for defying the state's ordinances and a preliminary injunction restricting indoor worship.

"I'm very grateful to Judge Beckloff for providing full due process and recognizing the importance of these constitutional protections," MacArthur said in a statement. "The reality is that the county cannot show that their order is even rational, much less necessary. They have also applied their orders arbitrarily and discriminatorily against churches and we enjoy a heightened protection in America to hold church."

The next hearing will occur on Nov. 13, where Beckloff will likely schedule a trial to determine MacArthur's contempt.

Thomas More Society special counsel and Trump legal adviser Jenna Ellis ripped the county for trying to hold MacArthur in contempt under what she described as a "constitutionally invalid" order. The county had placed restrictions on indoor worshipping, which is what sparked the church's initial legal challenge.

"Grace Church has not been exonerated for its violations of the court's order and actions endangering public health; instead, the court cannot adjudicate this issue now because of court rules prohibiting people from being present in the courtroom to combat the spread of the virus," Los Angeles County said in a statement. "The County will continue taking actions to protect the health and safety of residents and looks forward to the court issuing a final ruling regarding Defendants' contempt of court."

Beckloff previously handed the county a victory by issuing a preliminary injunction temporarily prohibiting the church from holding indoor services. He stated that he did not view the injunction as a judgment on the case's constitutional questions. A full trial on the issue of contempt will most likely not occur until early next year.

The county has been taking more aggressive action against the church as the legal battle wears on. It seized property from the church in the midst of the legal battle and also fined the church for allegedly misplacing its signs listing coronavirus guidances.

MacArthur has also come under fire for dismissing the danger of the coronavirus, telling congregants there was "no pandemic" in late August.