UPDATE: A judge ruled late Friday afternoon that Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, can continue hosting indoor worship services and does not have to adhere to any attendance caps or bans on singing.
Attorney Jenna Ellis, who is representing Grace Community Church and its pastor, John MacArthur, shared the news via Twitter, calling the ruling a “historic win.”
California megachurch Pastor John MacArthur has filed a lawsuit against Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and other state officials over ongoing restrictions for churches amid the coronavirus pandemic.
In the filing, submitted Thursday by attorneys Jenna Ellis and Charles LiMandri, MacArthur’s Grace Community Church in Sun Valley has sought “to prohibit California from enforcing its unconstitutional and onerous coronavirus pandemic regulations” against the congregation.
In addition to suing Newsom, Grace Community Church has named Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (D) and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).
As legal proceedings get underway, MacArthur has pledged to keep the doors of his church open to serve Angelenos eager to return for Sunday morning services.
“We are simply continuing to do today what we have done for the past 63 years, that Grace Community Church has been open to welcome the Los Angeles community and serve their spiritual needs,” the pastor said in a statement. “We will remain open and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who decide they want to come worship with us.”
According to the Thomas More Society, where Ellis serves as special counsel, the complaint from Grace Community Church states the American people “have begun to see that they are being [cheated] by their own government.”
The lawsuit pointed to the double standard that has been applied to Black Lives Matter protesters, who have been allowed and even encouraged to flood the streets by the thousands while churches have been forced to keep their sanctuaries closed over concerns worship services could cause spikes in coronavirus infections.
“They have witnessed how the onerous restrictions imposed on them by public officials to allegedly fight the COVID-19 pandemic simply do not apply to certain, favored groups,” states MacArthur’s lawsuit. “When many went to the streets to engage in ‘political’ or ‘peaceful’ protests
purportedly against racism and police brutality, these protestors refused to comply with the pandemic restrictions. Instead of enforcing the public health orders, public officials were all too eager to grant a de facto exception for these favored protestors.”
LiMandri argued it is “unconstitutional” for Newsom and his cohorts to “discriminate against churches by treating them less favorably than other organizations and activities that are not protected by the First Amendment.” He continued, “This is especially the case when the government has given free rein to protesters, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, and abortion providers.”
The legal filing comes not long after MacArthur’s church was met with a cease-and-desist letter from the County of Los Angeles.
MacArthur, for his part, has indicated he has no plans to comply with the demand. At the beginning of last Sunday’s worship service, the 81-year-old pastor cheekily welcomed congregants to “the Grace Community Church peaceful protest.”
During an appearance Tuesday morning on CNN, MacArthur told host Brianna Keilar he believes the California government is intentionally “targeting” the church.
Church-goers, he said, “know life is being restricted in a way that is not constitutional, that is burdensome, that is targeting a church, and that makes no sense in light of the actual number of deaths that they’re seeing.”
As for whether it’s wise for certain attenders to return to in-person worship services, MacArthur told Keilar he has entrusted his congregants with that determination.
He said it’s up to attendees to “make adult decisions about the reality of their physical and spiritual health and how that balance works for each one of them.”