After a series of losses by Los Angelas County against John Mac Arthur and Grace Community Church, the County now has changed its strategy in their unconstitutional attacks against the Church’s religious freedom.
In a letter sent by LA County, Grace community Church has now been given 30-day notice that the County is “exercising its right” to terminate a lease agreement for a large portion of the Church’s parking, which has been leased continually by them since 1975.
Jenna Ellis, Special Counsel for the Thomas More Society representing the Church in its ongoing legal battle against the state of California, responded to the County’s letter saying it is “harassment, abusive, and unconscionable.”
“Los Angeles County is retaliating against Grace Community Church for simply exercising their constitutionally protected right to hold church and challenging an unreasonable, unlawful health order,” Ellis said “In America, we have a judicial system to ensure that the executive branch does not abuse its power, and Grace Community Church has every right to be heard without fear of reprisal. The Democrats’ message to Americans is clear–if you don’t bow to every whim of tyranny, the government will come after you. The Church has peacefully held this lease for 45 years, and the only reason the County is attempting eviction is because John MacArthur stood up to their unconstitutional power grab. This is harassment, abusive, and unconscionable.”
On July 13th, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered Churches in 30 counties to close their doors to in-person worship due to Coronavirus. This resulted in many churches and Pastors refusing to shut down, citing not only the Constitution, which protects their freedom to worship but also their Biblical responsibility to assemble together for in-person fellowship (Hebrews 10:25).
Grace Community Church was one such Church that refused closure, with Pastor John MacArthur saying in a July 24th letter that “Christ, Not Caesar, Is Head of the Church,” and that government officials had stepped “outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority as a civic official and arrogates to himself authority that God expressly grants only to the Lord Jesus Christ as sovereign over His Kingdom, which is the church.”
The Church was then sent a cease-and-desist letter, specifically targeting MacArthur, by the County threatening them with a $1,000 daily fine or arrest for non-compliance with Newsom’s order.
“Pastor MacArthur and Grace Community Church are not disobeying the Constitution; it is California’s Governor Gavin Newsom and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti that are defying their constitutional obligation to protect religious freedom and church assembly,” Jenna Ellis said in response.
This initial harassment by the County prompted the Thomas More Society on behalf of John MacArthur and Grace Community Church to announce August 13th, their filing of a lawsuit against the state of California. The suit sought to “prohibit California from enforcing its unconstitutional and onerous coronavirus pandemic regulations against Grace Community Church” as well as “a judgment that the health orders violate the California Constitution.”
The lawsuit resulted in Judge Chalfant, ruling in favour of the Church, agreeing “that it is the county’s burden to show why they should be permitted to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of churches to freely exercise religion” and setting the full hearing for September 4th.
LA County immediately petitioned the Court of appeals for an emergency temporary restraining order against the Church, which they did not receive. However, the Court did stay Judge Chalfant order, directing to the previously scheduled hearing for September 4th.
The Los Angelas county then attempted to have the Church held in contempt of Court for continuing in their in-person worship services. Still, Judge Mitchell Beckloff found there is “No Court Order Prohibiting Indoor Worship.”
“This should signal to LA County that California courts will not quickly or easily trample the constitutionally protected rights of churches,” Jenna Ellis stated.
Now the County is going a different route, going after the Church’s parking lots to keep congregants away, giving them notice that as of October 1st, the property leased for the past 45 years by the Church must be turned over to the district.