By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square
Los Angeles-based evangelical pastor John MacArthur and Grace Community Church have sued Gov. Gavin Newsom, Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and several state and county public health officials. They allege the state and county have violated six provisions of the state constitution and are demanding a trial by jury.
MacArthur, who also founded the Masters Seminary and Grace to You ministry, is represented by Charles LiMandri of LiMandri & Jonna LLP, and Jenna Ellis, Thomas More Society special counsel.
The lawsuit was filed in the Superior Court in Los Angeles’ North Central District on Aug. 12.
In its 538-page complaint, the plaintiffs argue that rioters and protesters who were not following health protocols over Memorial Day weekend and following days were treated differently than other residents of California. This disparate treatment resulted in an increased number of coronavirus cases being reported. In response, “In June and July, attempting to fight this spike, California targeted the wrong groups,” the complaint states.
“Blatant favoritism has not only led to spikes and a loss of confidence by the American people – but it has also resulted in forceful decisions by courts addressing these constitutional violations,” it continues.
LiMandri argues that both Grace and all churches “are entitled to practice their religion without government interference. This is especially the case when the government has given free rein to protestors, and is not similarly restricting marijuana dispensaries, large retail outlets and factories, and abortion providers. The government orders are also unconstitutional because there is no compelling need for the onerous restrictions on the churches at this time.”
The state and local orders have violated several provisions of the California Constitution, the complaint alleges: Article 1 Section 4 (Free Exercise and Enjoyment of Religion without Discrimination or Preference), Article 1 Section 7 (Liberty and Due Process Guarantees), Article 1 Section 2 (Liberty of Speech), Article 1 Section 7 (Equal Protection), Article 3 Section 3 (Separation of Powers Guarantees: Non-Delegation Doctrine and Ban on Legislative Vetoes).
“Californians,” it states, “… now realize that the pandemic restrictions are neither necessary nor good.” As a result, on Sunday, July 26, 2020, Grace Community Church resumed in-person worship services.
“With deaths from the ‘COVID-19 suicide pandemic’ exceeding those from the actual coronavirus pandemic, Grace Community Church decided that it would no longer sit by and watch its congregants and their children suffer from an absence of religious worship and instruction.”
In response, the County of Los Angeles issued a demand letter, ordering the church to comply with a July 14 county order mandated by Dr. Davis. Also revised on July 18, it prohibits indoor services at houses of worship.
In the letter, the county stated that it “was facing an unprecedented public health crisis due to the spread of COVID19. As of July 28, 2020, there were over 178,000 known cases of COVID-19 and more than 4,400 deaths in the County. Statewide, there are more than 466,000 confirmed cases and 8,500 deaths. COVID-19 is a highly contagious disease that is easily spread when persons are in close contact, especially in indoor settings. By holding indoor services for hundreds of persons during this pandemic, you are placing the health and safety of not only the persons attending the service, but also the community at large at risk.”
The state’s COVID database provides no information about the number of recoveries in the state or by county, which far outweigh the number of hospitalizations and deaths.
MacArthur has argued that these numbers do not warrant the approach the state or county has taken. Out of a population of more than 4 million residents in the county, the number of reported coronavirus positive cases and deaths represents 4.4 percent and 0.11 percent, respectively.
Violating the state and county orders “is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and imprisonment of up to 90 days,” the county letter states. “Each day that you conduct indoor services is a separate offense. Pursuant to the State and County health orders, Grace Community Church must immediately cease holding indoor worship services.”
The County requested the church to adhere to the health and safety protocols and if it did not, “the County will pursue further action through all available avenues of relief.”
The church said it will not comply and sued.
This past Sunday, MacArthur began morning services welcoming worshippers to “the Grace Community Church peaceful protest.” The response was a standing ovation and extended applause from the congregation.
He said, “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. We will remain open and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all who decide they want to come worship with us.”
Thomas More Society attorneys attempted to negotiation with state and county attorneys but found that “California is still intent on targeting churches – specifically, Grace Community Church,” it said.
“After Grace Community Church voluntarily complied with state orders for nearly six months, California’s edicts demanding an indefinite shut down have gone now far past rational or reasonable and are firmly in the territory of tyranny and discrimination,” Jenna Ellis, special counsel with the Thomas More Society, said. “This isn’t about health. It’s about blatantly targeting churches.”